It’s really a shame about Johnny Depp. Once the most consistently electric actor of his generation, now the Deppster is a walking collection of ticks and scarves and eyeliner and desperation. At some point during the decade since the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, he transformed into the new Jim Carrey. Depp is now a limb-flailing goofball with a love of silly voices and little interest in anything resembling subtlety. He’s had ups and downs since becoming the highest paid over-actor in the world, and ‘Mortdecai’ is likely the lowest low of all his lows.
Depp stars as Mortdecai. I don’t know if you’ve seen the poster or the trailers or absolutely any of the promotional material for the movie, but Depp has a goofy mustache in this one. Just in case you didn’t notice, he makes a point of drawing attention to the mustache immediately in the first scene, as if it’s just that hilarious. It will be referenced as often as possible from that point on. That’s just the type of comedy this is.
Anyhoo, beyond the mustache, Depp plays a prissy English aristocrat who solves crimes and finds rare artifacts or something. He’s assigned to track down a missing Goya painting by a British government operative played by Ewan McGregor, who’s also deeply in love with Mortdecai’s wife Gwyneth Paltrow – and she doesn’t care for the mustache, because once again that’s supposed to be really, really funny. So, Mortdecai embarks on an international hunt for the painting along with his trusty manservant Jock (Paul Bettany). From there, a bunch of zany things happen that allow Depp to flail around for the sake of “comedy,” or get in some ham-fisted chase sequences, or highlight the fact that he’s wearing a hilarious mustache. (That last thing happens a lot.)
‘Mortdecai’ was made by a collection of Americans who seem to enjoy British comedy, yet are convinced that what makes that specific brand of regional humor so successful is the fact that everyone has a silly accent and enjoys a good double-entendre. Not since ‘Are You Being Served?’ have so many adolescent sex puns, innuendos and sexual discomforts been trotted out for laughs that are (at least theoretically) supposed to appeal to adults. Even in the weakest ‘Austin Powers’ entries, Mike Myers at least understood the very British sense of irony and absurdity that is the actual secret in this sort of farce. That’s certainly not the case for director David Koepp, who embarrasses himself so thoroughly here that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s turned away at the border the next time he dares to enter the UK.
Koepp is a tough filmmaker to pin down. As a screenwriter, he’s been responsible for some terrific works like ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Carlito’s Way’, or even (as a director) ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Premium Rush’. However, he’s also just as likely to miss the mark completely with abysmal garbage like ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ or ‘The Secret Window’ (not coincidentally, the last movie he wrote/directed for Depp). When Koepp is on point, he makes wonderful pulp. When he’s off, he makes unwatachable crap. This movie falls strictly into the latter category. (Also, mustache!)
Not that all of the blame should fall onto the shoulders of the director, of course. There’s also Depp, who let’s face it was entirely responsible for this movie getting made, simply by lending his name and fame to the poster. It’s safe to say that Depp is a fan of eccentric British comedy. He clearly reveled in the chance to adopt a goofy aristocratic accent and wear a pair of gapped buckteeth. As always, you have to admire the actor’s full-throttle commitment and willingness to push to extreme levels of absurdity. It’s just getting more than a little tiresome to see him lend his talents to such dreary dreck.
When a cult figure makes it big, you kind of have to excuse him a few crappy big movies to make some long overdue paychecks. With Depp, that cash-out period has now stretched to a decade. While I’m sure the money’s good, I find it hard to believe that he’s genuinely proud of the asinine movies that he keeps cranking out. The actor is better than ‘Mortdecai’, and he’s certainly better than a one-note comedy role (especially when that single note is a mustache). It’s time for him to get a little pickier and a little less greedy before he finally drains away all the good will that he earned through the years.
With any luck, ‘Mortdecai’ will be the movie equivalent of a rock bottom night of drug abuse that makes Johnny Depp re-evaluate his life choices. I’d love to believe that’s the case, but a quick glance at his IMDb page confirms a new ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as “Filming” and yet another ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ sequel in “Pre-production.” So, I guess not.