Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is a raffish, debonair art dealer with the heart of a rogue and the life style of an aristocrat. With the slightest of gaps between his teeth and a brand new mustache that is just beginning to curl at either end, Mortdecai is about to discover just how deep in hock he is to Her Majesty’s Government.
“We are looking down the barrel of insolvency,” his tall, leggy, blonde wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) informs him after yet another legally suspicious art deal goes belly up. When Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) reminds Mortdecai he owes taxes to Her Majesty’s Government to the sum of eight million pounds, Mortdecai responds with “I had no idea I was so deep in Her Majesty’s hole.”
Based on a series of books written in the seventies by the late comic novelist Kyril Bonfiglioli – himself an art dealer, a champion swordsman and, by all accounts, a somewhat eccentric man of clever wit and offbeat humor – Mortdecai is an American comedy made in the style of a British sixties caper movie, complete with brightly lit, eye-catching widescreen cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister and an appropriate retro sounding soundtrack by Mark Ronson and Geoff Zanelli. As played by Depp with the upper-class accent of a twit, Mordecai has the voice of Terry-Thomas, the pompous mannerisms of Robert Coote and the energetic delivery of Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster in the “I say, ol’ boy,” style of speech.
The plot is a comic romp that takes Mortdecai and his thuggish man-servant Jock Strapp (an uncomfortable looking Paul Bettany) halfway around the world in pursuit of a stolen Goya thought to contain codes to a lost bank account full of Nazi gold. There are lots of twists and turns, a few sight gags and the occasional one-liner, plus several guest characters with recognizable faces who come and go to either help or hinder Mortdecai and Jock in their pursuit of the stolen painting, yet it’s somewhere around the halfway mark that your mind wanders – at least, mine did – and you lose interest. The shenanigans are whacky, the characters are generally likeable, the plot is humorously silly, and the film’s production values throughout are high – the CGI graphics as Mortdecai flies from city to city are outstanding – and yet it never fully engages. Once you’ve got used to the film’s style and its sixties movie manner, it’s over; the joke is done.
The film is based on Bonfiglioli’s first Mortdecai novel called Don’t Point That Thing At Me, a line used by Johanna when first introduced to her caddish husband’s new, curling ‘tache. The mustache is one of a few running jokes continually repeated throughout. The other is what Mortdecai asks of his manservant every time they find themselves in a sticky situation. “Will it be alright in the end?” Mortdecai asks while ducking and diving from bullets. “I couldn’t say, sir,” a breathless Jock always answers.
However, what’s missing amongst all this malarkey is a steady flow of laugh-out-loud gags. Eric Aronson’s screenplay covers the basics but while the rhythm is there, some of the beats are missing. It needs a serviceable flow of satirical, rapid-fire one-liners executed with the punch and speed of the kind we’ve become used to on TV’s The Simpsons or The Family Guy. After all, Mortedecai is really a big screen cartoon begging for big-time zingers, but they’re not there. Instead, the jokes are mostly genial and thinly spread – the kind that raises a smile but not a real laugh – with just the occasional moment of genuine wit. When Mortdecai and Jock land in Los Angeles for the first time they’re faced with something they’ve never seen in public before; shapely, bikini clad babes casually strolling through the lobby of an L.A. hotel. “Have we taken a wrong turn and ended up on the set of a pornographic film?” he asks of the hotel concierge.
Perhaps the most fun you’ll have with Mortdecai is deciphering the accents and determining whether they work or not. America’s Gwyneth Paltrow has a comically clipped, high-society British accent, Scotland’s Ewan McGregor possesses a posh London accent, Londoner Paul Bettany’s usually educated sounding English here echoes Ray Winstone’s brute force cockney, and America’s Depp makes a comical meal out of his Terry-Thomas. They’re a mixed bag of noises that only work in the spirit of a colorful cartoon – funny, but at a running time of 106 minutes, eventually wearisome.
According to reports, last year, Lionsgate announced it was creating a film franchise of Mortdecai. That was over a year ago when the movie was still in production. Presumably the dailies looked good. Now with the product completed you have to wonder whether the suits at the studio are still of the same mind. I’m thinking, probably not, ol’ boy.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 106 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (Out of 10)