Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Mortdecai

The January Film Dumping Ground Season continues into February! Yes, it's that magical time of year where the studios burn off all the celluloid dogs they didn't dare release during the all-important and lucrative summer and Xmas blockbusters seasons. Brace yourselves for an onslaught of watered-down PG-13 horror films, romcoms, dance-off movies and fart comedies. It's a great time to be a film fan.

Mortdecai was written by Eric Aronson, and directed by David Koepp.

Koepp has a pretty impressive track record as the screenwriter of Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man, War Of The Worlds (the remake) and Men In Black 3— all films I like quite a bit. But he also wrote The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Ah well, I guess nobody can hit one out of the park every time at bat.

Additionally, Koepp wrote and directed the less than stellar Secret Window, which also starred Johnny Depp. I'm thinking maybe these two should stop collaborating on films.

The film is based on the Mortdecai novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli, primarily Don't Point That Thing At Me, the first in the series. The convoluted plot is fine, and feels like an homage to classic caper films of the 1960s and 1970s, such as The Pink Panther, Oceans 11, How To Steal A Million and Who's Minding The Mint. Unfortunately Mortdecai is set in the present day, which makes it feel out of place and dated. 
It would have worked much better if they'd made it a period piece set in the 70s.

Once again Johnny Depp dons a funny wig and costume along with an outrageous accent in yet another of his string of self-indulgent roles. To say he chews the scenery would be an understatement, as he devours it whole, and with gusto. Unfortunately he seems to be having much more fun playing the part than the audience does watching him.


Depp seems to be channeling Terry-Thomas here, in look as well as mannerisms. He's even got Thomas' trademark gap-toothed grin!

The movie's not the disaster I expected after seeing the trailer, but I wouldn't necessarily call it good either. It features a standout cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany and Jeff Goldblum, but sadly does little or nothing with them. Koepp was apparently so busy with the writing and the directing that he forgot to include anything resembling a joke, believing that seeing people standing around speaking with funny accents is all you need to make an audience guffaw. Boy, was he wrong.

In fact the film seems determined to be as unfunny as possible as it barely generates more than a few half-hearted, polite chuckles. The biggest laugh in the entire movie is when Mortdecai's wife Johanna gags at the thought of kissing his mustachioed lips, causing him to reflexively vomit in return. The filmmakers apparently know that's the only bit that has a chance of getting a laugh, so they repeat it ten or twelve times throughout the movie.

SPOILERS, I SUPPOSE

The Plot:
Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is an eccentric, buffoonish art dealer who occasionally does business with the dark underbelly of the art world. He has a stylish and sophisticated wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), who's repulsed by his newly-grown waxed mustache, and a manservant/thug named Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), who rescues him from various dangerous situations.

Mortdecai is also broke, owing some eight million pounds to the British government. Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) of MI5 enlists Mortdecai to help recover a stolen Goya painting. Mortdecai agrees to find the painting, knowing there's a secret code on the back that leads to the location of a hidden stash of $8 million dollars in Nazi gold. $8 million which can dig him out of his financial hole.

There's lots of globe-trotting, shooting, car chases, art auctions and general running about, as Mortdecai eventually recovers the painting and the $8 million. Unfortunately Martland and the British government garnish the majority of it, leaving Mortdecai and Johanna with only a couple thousand pounds.

Mortdecai then agrees to shave his mustache for Johanna, but she decides to let him keep it. She kisses him passionately for a few moments until she gags, causing him to follow suit. The audience then slowly and grimly files out of the theater, vowing to reexamine their lives.

Thoughts:
• I have very little to say about this film, so this may be one of my shortest reviews ever.

• If the idea of seeing Johnny Depp playing a pretentious English buffoon who says things such as, "I say, good show old chap!" strikes you as hilarious, then you'll likely have a good time. If not, you're in for a very long 106 minutes.

• Mortdecai and Jock remind me more than a little of Inspector Clouseau and his manservant Cato from the Pink Panther films. Wait, did I say they're a little like them? I meant exactly. Right down to the "Able Assistant Does All The Work While The Inept Boss Reaps The Rewards" trope. This isn't the movie's fault though, as the characters and their relationship came straight from the books. Still, it's distractingly blatant.

• Gwyneth Paltrow is a fine actress, but her English accent leaves much to be desired. Every time she opened her mouth I marveled at just how fake her accent sounded. It's not Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins bad, but it definitely ain't good. I can only imagine how grating it sounds to an actual British person.

• Mortdecia's manservant is named Jock Strapp. Wakka wakka! Again, I can't blame the movie for this one, as the character's name originated in the books. Still... these are the kinds of jokes you're in for.

• I have no idea why this film was rated R. There are a couple of F bombs in it, but other than there's nothing racy about it.

Several of the Romantic era paintings in the film are of nudes— is that what generated the R rating? Are painted tits now just as verboten in film as real ones?

• In 2014 Lionsgate Studios announced that they'd be creating a whole series of Mortdecai films based on the various books. Given this movie's anemic box office earnings— it's only managed to gross a paltry $7 million as of this review— those plans seem unlikely. Sorry, Mortdecai fans! Looks like this'll be the one and only film you get.

Mortdecai isn't as bad as the trailers suggest, but it's curiously outdated and seemingly disinterested in being funny. I give it a C+.


Update: Ordinarily I make it a policy to never go back and revise my movie reviews. Once I give a film a grade, I let it stand. 

Well, rules were made to be broken. I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I originally gave Mortdecai a C+, but I can't in good conscience let that score stand. This is a terrible, terrible movie, and at the very least it deserves a D-.

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