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Film Review: Mortdecai – Not the High Point of Johnny Depp’s Career

Theatrical poster

There is a golden rule in acting when performing comedy. Never act funny. Don’t let the audience know you are in on the joke. You play your role seriously, as a believable character, just as you would any other role.

 As you watch “Mortdecai” (2015), directed by David Koepp, and see Johnny Depp on-screen, you quickly begin to think to yourself “oh no! What is Johnny Depp doing?” Depp plays Charlie Mortdecai, an expert art dealer with connections to the underground world, as a complete caricature. Depp has created a funny sounding voice, walks in a funny way, has exaggerated mannerisms and wears a funny mustache.

And yet despite everything, all the warning signs of trouble on the horizon because of Depp’s portrayal of this character, I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed at myself for laughing. “Mortdecai” is not supposed to work. But we laugh anyway. We laugh at the stupidity of the plot, Depp’s character and the low brow, corny jokes.

With that in mind I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t recommend it. How could I honestly tell someone not to see this movie knowing I laughed as I watch it? Some people may genuinely think this movie is not funny and a complete waste of time. Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News gave the movie zero stars and called “Mortdecai”, “a disastrously misguided career low” for Johnny Depp. There will be more people that share her sentiments than mine.

[pullquote]Johnny Depp is a strange character to me. I can’t quite figure him out. He often seems attracted to bizarre characters. He has turned in some fine performances in Tim Burton movies, which may be where he gets his strangeness from, and has been nominated for Academy Awards for his work in Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” (2007), “Finding Neverland” (2004) and in his most famous role as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” (2003).[/pullquote]

I can understand why Depp would be interested in playing this character. It might have been fun for him to play. He probably saw it as a caricature and thought that would allow him a certain freedom creatively. So, he gets dressed up, has a funny voice. etc. I also felt there was a hint of William Powell from the “Thin Man” (1934) in his performance. And there is a relationship between Mortdecai and his man servant, Jock (Paul Bettany) which reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Jock is the muscle between the two, and helps Mortdecai get out of any dangerous predicament Mortdecai finds himself in.

Now I should admit I never read the satirical comic series by Kyril Bonfiglioli, first published in the 1970s . Maybe Depp is being faithful to the source material.

The plot revolves around a Goya painting, believed to be lost,  that may have been rediscovered and may have lead to the death of an art restorer who discovered it. Now, it is up to British Mi5 agent Martland (McGregor) to find the painting, unfortunately, it will require the help of Mortdecai. The two have known each other since college. Martland was and still is in love with Mortdecai’s wife, Johanna (Paltrow) but it was Mortdecai that won Johanna’s heart.

The visual style of “Mortdecai” reminds me of a Guy Ritchie movie with a cartoon comic twist. It has a lot of energy and is fast moving. One consistent image is showing a 3-D map highlighting the various locations the movie takes place in including London, Russia and Los Angeles.

“Mortdecai” also has a silliness to it which reminds me of “Austin Powers” (1997). I am not sure which time period “Mortdecai” is supposed to take place in but I have a feeling both he and Austin Powers would get along smashingly.

Why was this movie was ever released? I can understand why it got the green light. The movie has an attractive cast; Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany and a brief role by Jeff Goldblum. Perhaps there is a devoted cult following of the Mortdecai books which eagerly awaited a movie adaptation. The director Koepp is not a bad director. He worked with Depp previously on “Secret Window” (2004) and directed “Ghost Town” (2008) with Ricky Gervais. But, once the final product was shown wasn’t there anyone that could stop it from being released? Did the studio feel they had too much invested in this not to release it?

“Mortdecai” is not great cinematic art. But, it is a funny, lighthearted, silly (very, very silly) ride of a movie.

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