This piece was originally published at Sound On Sight, which is no longer active. The below is an edit from 7 May 2018.
Seemingly late in the game of David Koepp’s Mortdecai, the eponymous character (played by Johnny Depp) asks his wife, “Are you quite finished with your barrage of insults?” It’s an apt question for the film itself, a cataclysmically unfunny, unbelievably tedious disaster of baffling misjudgments and multiple career lows that feels as long as Shoah, and only a little less harrowing. No such luck, though, as the film goes on for another 25 minutes. It then ends on people about to throw up. Also apt.
Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Depp, in a career low as both actor and one of the film’s producers) is an eccentric English art dealer and ‘part time rogue’, and the sort of whimsical, foppish figure who refers to America as ‘the Colonies’. (This film is apparently set in the present day.) He’s in debt to the British government by several million pounds, and his marriage with wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow, career low) is also floundering due to both this and the fact he has decided to grow a curly moustache that repulses nearly everyone he meets. People insulting the moustache and Mortdecai defending it take up a good 45% of this film’s script. It is never amusing.
When a thief swipes a valuable Goya painting and murders a restoration artist, Security Service agent Martland (Ewan McGregor, career low despite visibly trying to escape with dignity intact) offers Mortdecai a chance to escape his debt by assisting with tracking the art thief, who it’s suspected has ties to international terrorism – it’s never revealed if the terrorism involves releasing Mortdecai in cinemas worldwide. Mortdecai and manservant Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany, career low as a sort of Cockney Kato) therefore venture off on an escapade that takes them to “the Colonies” and beyond, encountering angry Russians (Danish star Ulrich Thomsen, career low) and nymphomaniac heiresses (Olivia Munn in a career… something… low?) along the way. Jeff Goldblum also turns up briefly and is the only person who doesn’t embarrass himself, solely because he has about four lines and is subsequently dead within five minutes. Oh, spoilers, sorry.
Mortdecai is (presumably loosely) based on a series of somewhat satiric comic thriller novels from the 1970s by English author Kyril Bonfiglioli. In contrast to the cult source material that’s received flattering comparisons to P.G. Wodehouse, the film is rampant with testicular, toilet and vomit jokes, all while looking like a particularly shoddy, cheap children’s movie. Never behind a remotely great film as a director, Koepp has at least previously been a reliable journeyman helmer, but Mortdecai is an especially ugly mess that constantly feels like it’s coming apart at the seams; an awful recurring motif with bad CGI Virgin Atlantic jets and the fact everything coming out of Paul Bettany’s mouth seems dubbed prove repeat offenders.
Mortdecai is reminiscent of the equally abysmal 2012 Gambit remake in that one of its (few) clear goals is to re-create tropes and tonal elements from 1960s caper movies in a contemporary setting; think The Pink Panther et al, but Eric Aronson’s script also has a lot of unfortunate DNA from the British Carry On franchise (“I had no idea I was so deep in Her Majesty’s hole,” Mortdecai says, upon hearing he is in debt). It’s also reminiscent of Gambit in that watching it successfully convinces you that you may never know joy again.
Who was this mystifying movie meant to be for? Why did all these people agree to make it? How did the screenplay appeal to anyone who read it? How on Earth was this shot by the same man behind the cinematography of The Deep Blue Sea? Why do the opening lines of the film make it seem like the character of Mortdecai is meant to already be some established and beloved cinematic property? How is it possible that a film can make you yearn for the days of Austin Powers in Goldmember? What the fuck was the point of all this? Was this actually a money laundering scheme? How do I get my soul back?