As a critic, one tries to go into every scenario with an open mind. Once a film is identified as the one for review, I will go out of my way to avoid message boards trailers so as to approach each screening as open-minded as possible.
Sometimes, though, you just walk into a movie thinking, “This is going to suck.”
“Mortdecai” tells the story of a British art dealer/ne’er-do-well (Johnny Depp) and his overly devoted manservant, Jock (Paul Bettany). Together, the pair gallivants around the world in the service of Mi5, tracking down a stolen painting. Along the way, there are run-ins with Russian mobsters, Asian hitmen, nymphomaniac Americans and Mortdecai’s own wife Johanna, played by Gwyneth Paltrow.
There’s nothing about “Mortdecai” that gives the impression of being anything other than complete rubbish. The titular main character keeps Depp’s current string of wildly over-acted, scenery-munching performances unbroken, the plot rather stunningly manages to be both paper thin and overly complicated, and the whole premise just seems to come out of nowhere. The film is based upon the relatively unread Kyril Bonfiglioli novel, “Don’t Point That Thing at Me,” which ensures that virtually nobody will go into the theater with any familiarity with the character of Charlie Mortdecai and therefore no reason to care about this rather annoying man’s life.
But here is the thing about the film: Maybe it is just because the general bar of expectation had been set so low from the outset, but “Mortdecai” wound up not being as bad as originally expected. The film is still horrible, but there were moments of genuine levity, some of the writing hits upon the border of clever, and the film is really rather lovely to look at and nicely paced for the first two-thirds.
That scant praise fairly meted out, however, and we still find ourselves gamely attempting to polish a turd. Depp’s acting has deteriorated to the point where you can’t be certain he is even trying anymore. He has not made a decent film since the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” installment, and there are no amounts of silly faces or zany accents that will cover up the fact that he is just not fun to watch anymore.
The rest of the cast does what it can. Bettany, in particular, is fun to watch and manages to feel like the most underused portion of any film he is in. Paltrow does what she can with her role, and Ewan McGregor (as Martland the put-upon Mi5 agent tasked with keeping tabs on Mortdecai) manages to make his scenes with Paltrow work well. Olivia Munn and Jeff Goldblum make small appearances in the film’s latter portion, but neither is utilized enough to make much of a difference.
In its final third, “Mortdecai” becomes a convoluted, bloated mess that gets crushed under the weight of its own rapidly increasing number of story lines. Characters pop in and out of the film so quickly that you have a hard time figuring out how some of them actually fit into the story, and the whole thing seems to be propped up on nothing more substantial than a couple low-hanging dick jokes. Then, when it is all said and done, all we are left with is the promise that Mortedcai has outsmarted everyone and lives to fight another day. The only problem is that, by the end of the film, we don’t care. CV