The storyline here is enough to drive you mad, not because it’s confusing, but it’s restless and often interrupted by a legion of weakly-written supporting roles from the likes of great actors like Olivia Munn and Ewan McGregor.

by Steve Pulaski

Johnny Depp has long predicated his acting career off of doing his own thing and not particularly caring what audiences or the general consensus of his performances or mannerisms are. Ever since the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Depp has continuously been giving headlining roles in projects with enormous budgets that have either barely broke even, went on to be record box office bombs, or simply withered away without anything of a pop culture impact. His last few films, The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, and Transcendence all have put up meager numbers at the box office when compared to their respective budgets, but, for whatever reason, financiers and movie studios still funnel money towards Depp’s films, with or without any franchise history.

Directed by
David Koepp
Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor
Release Date
23 January 2015
Steve’s Grade: D-

If his latest picture, David Koepp’s Mortdecai, after the horribly negative critical/audience backlash and the catastrophic earnings on its opening weekend, doesn’t at least prevent us from seeing another lofty, big-budget Depp film in the next two years, I’m convinced nothing will. Mortdecai is a $60 million travesty, not including the money it took to market such a horrendous cinematic miscalculation. Other than to give critics and hardened film fans an early pick for their worst film of the year, I’m not particularly sure why the film was made, or why and how Lionsgate is going to manage to get a franchise out of such a contemptible titular character and a droll, misguided story.

Depp plays Lord Charlie Mortdecai, an eccentric art dealer who can’t keep his hands off his curly mustache, a feature he boasts to fall in line with the other Mortdecai men of past generations and something that serves as an incessant running gag throughout the whole film. Obsessed with his mustache, his gorgeous wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), and whilst running into trouble at every turn, Mortdecai must travel all around the world to discover a stolen painting said to have a code to a lost bank account that is filled with stolen Nazi gold. The only one constantly by his side is Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), his trusty protector who does whatever he can to assure the safety of his friend, even if that means taking a bullet for the poor soul on several different occasions, usually as a result of Mortdecai’s own personal error.
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Mortdecai is what I call a “storm cloud film,” in that something about the very first scene, its presentation, its characters, the delivery of the dialog, and the first series of unfolding events do not add up. Something feels off or unsettled about the production, and one begins to fear if they’re in for a mediocre or downright awful event, despite quietly hoping the film turns around or gains some sort of balance. I kept wishing Mortdecai would go from stumbling to at least being able to strut with some control, but such optimism was foolish. How could writer Eric Aronson, director David Koepp, responsible for such great films as Premium Rush and The Trigger Effect, and producer Johnny Depp be a part of something so catastrophic and desperately unfunny? The film functions in such a way that leads one to believe Aronson took down a list of humorous scenarios to trap his lead character in before constructing them and robbing them of any and all things funny.

Depp traverses one continent after another, going from one brightly-colored set-piece to the next, delivering an endless bout of redundant dialog that is definitely something but that something isn’t the least bit funny. It’s exhaustive and aggressively silly, proving time and time again that if you make a film about a character who cannot take himself seriously, in turn, audiences will not be able to take the film seriously and dismiss it on-sight. Being that the film is constructed so much around Mortdecai, his personality, and his ability to either say the darndest thing or find himself in every sticky situation imaginable, once one discovers that the titular character is a poorly-constructed, unfunny bore, the film has already crashed and burned because it put so much of its reliance and weight of its success on said character.

The storyline here is enough to drive you mad, not because it’s confusing, but it’s restless and often interrupted by a legion of weakly-written supporting roles from the likes of great actors like Olivia Munn and Ewan McGregor. The film zig-zags around enough that any clean, linear form of a plot is lost immediately, and the fact that constant silliness is being paraded around screen from Depp’s character or an anti-climactic, buffoonish car chase shreds any kind of interest at all in the story at hand. At this point, the film has effectively given us an insufferable character lead character and a disorganized mess of a plot that can’t help but interrupt itself; once you have a film destroy its two pioneering elements, all you have left are aesthetics, and so very few films have gotten by on those principles alone. The aesthetics of the film are beautiful, with cinematographical work by Florian Hoffmeister shining through, as this is a candy-colored affair; the fact that Mortdecai puts little emphasis on environments and I’m commending the cinematography shows how desperate I was to try and find something on screen that interested me. This is one of the worst, most grating cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory.