2015, R, 106 min. Directed by David Koepp. Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 30, 2015
Most Americans will be unfamiliar with the late British writer Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Mortdecai novels, on which this Johnny Depp comedy is based; still, no reference point is required to come to the conclusion this is a rotten movie all around. Bonfiglioli’s comic thrillers about an art dealer named Mortdecai and his manservant Jock were published in the Seventies, but this modern-set film lumbers even further back to the Sixties for inspiration. Depp’s Mortdecai borrows freely from Peter Sellers’ self-serious Inspector Clouseau and Mike Myers’ dim-bulb sex magnet Austin Powers but can’t come close to the charisma either men exuded in a single raised eyebrow. He’s a black hole sucking in the superior actors in his orbit like McGregor, Paltrow, Goldblum, all more or less playing straight to his silly, high-kicking, show pony act. Only Bettany, scarred up like a classic Bond baddie even though he’s playing a good guy, the thuggishly devoted Jock, seems to be inhabiting the same movie – a spoof – as Depp.
The plot jets Mortdecai between London, Moscow, and Los Angeles on the trail of a missing Goya painting, and there’s enough potential there to imagine a more fizzily sophisticated something in the hands of a wittier filmmaker (Soderbergh, the Coens, Tony Gilroy). But Eric Aronson’s script is a clunker – no movie needs this many mustache jokes – and it curiously is untouched (at least, according to the credits) by director David Koepp, a sought-after screenwriter of blockbuster entertainments for Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Robert Zemeckis, among others. In between mega-franchise script work, Koepp has written and directed a handful of more modestly budgeted films, including the underrated Ricky Gervais romantic comedy Ghost Town, where he exhibited a far better handle on tone and a tricky leading man. Incidentally, “ghost town” also applied to the theatre I saw Mortdecai in on its opening day. This one’s dead on arrival.