Movie Review: “Mortdecai”

Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn, Jonny Pasvolsky
David Koepp

There’s no sugar-coating it: Johnny Depp is in a rut, and if he’s not careful, he could end up like Nicolas Cage really soon, because “Mortdecai” is bottom-of-the-barrel bad. Though the actor has earned criticism for his proclivity to play eccentric oddballs, he seems to be having a lot of fun here as the mustachioed title character. Unfortunately, he’s the only one, because this throwback to the goofy capers of the 1960s isn’t even remotely entertaining. In fact, it fails on just about every level, so committed to its ridiculous premise that it doesn’t bother to step back and recognize what an unholy mess it is. “Mortdecai” could have been the spiritual successor to Peter Sellers’ “Pink Panther” series, but it has more in common with Steve Martin’s terrible reboot.

Depp stars as Lord Charlie Mortdecai, a British art dealer who’s fallen on hard times. With his family’s estate in danger of bankruptcy, he agrees to help his old university friend, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) – who just so happens to be in love with Mortdecai’s wife, Joanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) – with a murder case that’s linked to the theft of a lost Goya painting… for a finder’s fee, of course. Aided by his loyal manservant/bodyguard, Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), Mortdecai launches an investigation into the missing masterpiece, only to discover that it may contain the code to a Swiss bank account filled with Nazi gold. Everyone wants the fabled Goya for their own reasons, including an American billionaire (Jeff Goldblum), a Russian mobster (Ulrich Thomsen) and a freedom fighter (Jonny Pasvolsky) intent on using the money to fuel his rebellion, but first, Mortdecai must prove that it even exists.

Based on the first of four novels in Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Mortdecai series, the film typifies the sort of low-rent garbage that’s become synonymous with the January movie season. It boasts a plot that is both overly complex and embarrassingly incoherent, and is rampant with stupid, desperately unfunny wordplay and recurring gags (mostly surrounding Mortdecai’s newly grown mustache), as if they’ll somehow warrant a laugh the umpteenth time around. It has the opposite effect, grinding away at your patience like a vulture gnawing on a days-old bone. “Mortdecai” isn’t even fun to watch in a train-wreck sort of way; it’s that horrible. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, Paul Bettany projectile vomits from a moving car during the climactic chase sequence. The only thing more depressing than watching an actor of Bettany’s talents stoop this low is the realization that the film isn’t over.

While it’s easy to see how an actor like Johnny Depp would be attracted to “Mortdecai” (it’s his chance at creating his very own Inspector Clouseau), he leans so heavily on the character’s eccentricities that he’s basically just a bumbling cartoon mustache with no actual depth. Paltrow, McGregor and Bettany also make fools of themselves in their respective roles, although the latter deserves kudos for trying his hand at slapstick comedy, even if the clever casting doesn’t quite work. But then again, nothing about “Mortdecai” works, to the point that you have to wonder how this film was greenlit at all, let alone what kind of dirt director David Koepp has on the actors to convince them to get involved. Whatever it is, it wasn’t worth it, because “Mortdecai” is the kind of movie that will follow them around forever; the metaphorical toilet paper stuck to the sole of their careers. That may sound like hyperbole, but take my word, it really is that awful.