VOD film review: Mortdecai
Lack of laughs4
Matthew Turner | On 10, Jun 2015
Director: David Koepp
Cast: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn
Watch Mortdecai online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Johnny Depp re-teams with Secret Window director David Koepp for this comedy caper based on the 1970s cult novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli (Don’t Point That Thing At Me, After You With The Pistol and Something Nasty In The Woodshed). Sadly, despite an obvious affection for the source material, the film never quite comes together, thanks to an uneven tone and a paucity of actual laughs.
Adopting a Terry Thomas-style plummy accent, Depp plays roguish British aristocrat and dodgy art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, whose wife, Johanna (Paltrow), is less than enamoured of his elaborate new moustache. When he’s reluctantly recruited to track down a stolen Goya masterpiece by MI5 agent and longtime love rival Alistair Maitland (McGregor), Charlie and his loyal manservant, Jock Strapp (Bettany), pursue the painting across the globe, while attempting to stay one step ahead of various international evil-doers.
Depp’s Mortdecai is a cartoonish creation, equal parts charisma and cowardice, with an unhealthy dose of narcissism thrown in. As such, he’s a difficult character to warm to, which isn’t helped by his constant mugging, though he does manage to raise a few smiles with some amusingly strangulated line deliveries.
Luckily, some of the supporting cast are on good form: Bettany delivers an enjoyable performance as thuggish, inexplicably catnip-to-the-laydeez manservant (think Jeeves crossed with Phil Mitchell from EastEnders), while a game Paltrow displays effective comic timing as Johanna, working hard to generate chemistry with Depp, who only has eyes for himself. However, a strained-looking McGregor is painfully awkward as Maitland and the film makes the fatal error of criminally wasting Jeff Goldblum, who pops up for a pair of scenes as American millionaire Milton Krampf.
The film’s biggest problem is its tone, with Koepp injecting moments of quite nasty violence into what’s supposed to be a farce. This wouldn’t be so bad, if the script actually delivered laughs, but despite flailing around in search of various comic targets (sex comedy, physical slapstick, zippy one-liners), it never hits home, despite the occasional moment of decent dialogue. On top of that, Koepp bungles the action sequences, which are both poorly executed and needlessly drawn-out; the overall pacing is decidedly sluggish.
If you can get past Depp’s furiously over-the-top performance, a large part of your enjoyment will doubtless come down to whether or not you share the film’s conviction that moustaches in and of themselves are hilarious. That’s certainly the main joke of the film: there is a moustache-related gag or reference in practically every scene. Hell, the film even has a “Moustache Wrangler” named in the credits, while posters for the film depicted all cast members sporting the exact same face furniture.
At least the production design is decent, with costumes, sets and cinematography all deliberately echoing the 1960s Pink Panther films. There’s also an appropriately caper-friendly score from Mark Ronson that goes heavy on horns. But despite the occasional good moment, Mortdecai isn’t nearly as funny or as much fun as it thinks it is. Seek out Bonfiglioli’s books instead.
Mortdecai is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.