Watching Mortdecai is painful in the same awkward way being an outcast at a shrill party can be. Everyone is having so much fun with themselves that they forget to include you. I can’t say that I was jealous from being left outside Mortdecai’s social circle though – I was too irritated to care.
Johnny Depp has always filled out his resume with outrageous characters, but he should’ve passed on the role of moustached art detective Charlie Mortdecai. Mortdecai grimaces, chortles, and shrieks when he’s not charming his eloquent wife Johanna (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). He accidentally – and frequently – harms his patient manservant Jock (played by Paul Bettany), while the goofy goons assist a debonair inspector named Alistair Martland (played by Ewan McGregor) in a case to find a controversial painting.
Johnny Depp has been receiving a lot of flack for Mortdecai, to which he only somewhat deserves the brunt of the critical warfare – he also served as a producer. Mortdecai doesn’t work as a character because a persona can’t survive on a variety of nutty quirks and the mechanics of slapstick. The film’s “Plan B” is that hopefully Depp’s real-life likability fleshes out Mortdecai. As likeable and creative Depp can often be, he never hits a stride with this cracked-out, high-class fraud.
The rest of the cast, however, are equally responsible for the film’s comedic tin ear. Paltrow, Bettany, McGregor (who are usually spotted in dramatic work) use Mortdecai as a stage to show more versatility; as if – weirdly enough – they have something to prove. They all go overboard with their schtick and feed on each others’ ill-advised ambitions to perform faster and louder. They are provided no help from their fearless filmmaking leader David Koepp (Premium Rush, Secret Window) or screenwriter Eric Aronson (who last left audiences fried from his written work in the abysmal ☆NSYNC vehicle On the Line).
Much of Mortdecai feels like a colouring book adaptation of a Guy Ritchie film. Gimmicky personalities zip around as fast as the globetrotting camerawork, and the choreography jokes around as actors grind their elbows into our sides. However, even the worst Ritchie flicks have a baffling entertaining quality to them. Many will be looking for these same tendencies if they decide to hate-watch Mortdecai, but they’ll be coming out of the film slouching and sighing. The film never lets its guard down for the audience to find anything endearing about it. Even when the film softens, there’s always someone making a sarcastic remark about Depp’s “comical” moustache.
Mortdecai is always “on”, and it’s exhausting.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie