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David Koepp’s profoundly senseless Mortdecai, has, by now, completely bombed with critics and audiences alike. Mortdecai absolutely refuses to take itself seriously, and in so doing, becomes astonishingly endearing – like a nagging friend ceaselessly making a fool out of themselves until they have produced a smile. Like its bumbling, idiotic namesake, Mortdecai is completely inept, yet oddly effective through sheer luck and well-chosen associates.
Swindling art dealer, Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) has hit a financial rough patch. In debt to his Majesty’s government and several disreputable colleagues, Mortdecai is blindly determined not to lose face – and his newly sprouted moustache. When a local art restorer is murdered in her home while cleaning a painting, MI5 enlists Mortdecai and unusual methodology to get to the bottom of the mystery. Assisted by his astonishingly adept manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) and his charmingly beautiful wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), Mortdecai soon learns that the mystery extends far beyond anyone’s expectations. Nazi cover-ups and octogenarian trysts punctuate the Mortdecai’s hunt, as they travel the globe in search of the ever-elusive work of art.
David Koepp’s direction is particularly fresh for a movie of this style. With some out-of-the-box transitions from location to location, Koepp relies very little on standard story development. Utilizing quick zooms mixed with digital technology, Koepp pulls his audience out of a scenario, and, like pieces in a large board game, moves them over the clearly-labeled landscape to his desired setting, where we are firmly placed back inside the narrative. Koepp relies heavily on genre stereotypes to inject humor, a flickering alley streetlamp being smashed post diabolical conversation, or an obvious trap being foiled before it is ever sprung.
Written by Eric Aronson and Kyril Bonfiglioli, Mortdecai plays like one big inside joke. Coming across in every line of dialogue and scene, Mortdecai is of the same ilk as 22 Jump Street; a movie so self-aware that it invites the audience to join in the stupidity of the experience. A smattering of moustache jokes and unexpected cussing sprinkled over a nonsensical plot; Mortdecai has fun with its boundaries, and doggedly works at allowing the audience to have a good time. Opening on a scene almost too shockingly dreadful to be believes, the film only descends into madness, breaking from reality, and forcing the audience to choose between following, or becoming increasingly bored/incensed.
Johnny Depp monstrously butchers accents, yet no one seems to have acknowledged it. From the Canadian French he massacred in Tusk to whatever he was doing in The Lone Ranger, Depp’s penchant for character acting is beginning to take its toll. However, Mortdecai uses Depp’s ineptitude to its benefit, turning his garbled British Mortdecai into an English proxy for Peter Sellers/Steve Martin Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther). While not evoking the presence of Sellers or the outright charm of Martin, Depp is lovable in his own pompous way, making for some rather compelling viewing. Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow have a distinct onscreen chemistry, lending to a more developed relationship that only requires minimal addition, yet is given an exhaustive, redundant back-story. Paul Bettany is one of the best sidekicks in recent memory, with the devotion of a dog and the ass-kicking ability of Jason Statham. Bizarre appearances from Jeff Goldblum and Olivia Munn round out the equally bizarre ancillary cast, dotted with Russian madmen and moustachioed villains.
Mortdecai is not a good movie. It does not have an original plot, nor are any of the actors at the top of their game. It is silly, contrived and nonsensical, yet it is abnormally charming. None involved seem to have any preconceived notions of its greatness, nor do they seem to mind. Mortdecai is the combination of a group of people coming together to have a good time, and their efforts to impart that sense of fun on the audience. Like a self-aware cult comedy, Mortdecai is an attempt to create the accidental magic of The Room or Troll 2 with none of the irony.