Starring Johnny Depp and His Snot Mop

(USA, 106 min.)
Dir. David Koepp, Writ. Eric Aronson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany
Johnny Depp stars as 'Charlie Mortdecai' in Mortdecai. Photo: David Appleby
Mortdecai brings to the screen the Kyril Bonfiglioli’s cult novel Don’t Point That Thing at Me, the first of three books in a series featuring the bumbling art-dealer and part time rogue Charlie Mortdecai. Charlie Mortdecai is basically the result of a one-night stand between Jacques Clouseau and Johnny English, but with slightly better breeding and a significantly goofier mustache. Johnny Deep stars as the titular bon vivant, and he puts on his best(ish) English accent and worst facial hair for a spot of fun in this globetrotting art caper. Even silly, harmless, goofy films premised on mustaches jokes have limited mileage, though, and Mortdecai milks Depp’s snot mop for every laugh it can get and then some. Mortdecai misses by more than a whisker, but it’s not that bad as far as January releases go.

Mortdecai would probably be a lot more fun if it ran with the glitziness of its caper more than it twists Depp’s mustache. There’s about one good joke to be had with the mustache—two, maybe, given the gag reflex that Mortdecai’s wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) experiences whenever Mortdecai’s lady tickler touches her lip—and that’s about it. Paltrow is fun in a throwaway role and more discernably British accent-wise than Depp is. Depp, on the other hand, seems to have a grand time stroking his facial hair, for Mortdecai boasts his hammiest performance to date and he drives the manic zaniness of Mortdecai through its mustachioed 106 minutes. He’s obviously having a lot of fun and it kind-of-sort-of translates to the film experience.

Mortdecai finds himself in the mix of an international art incident when an art restorer is bumped off with a crossbow and the priceless Goya masterwork in her care is whisked away to the black market. Mortdecai, a crooked character himself, finagles a deal with MI5 agent Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) to help retrieve the painting and, in turn, nab a finder’s fee, which should save the Mortdecai estate from impending financial ruin. A decent joke about rancid cheese punctuates the funny looks directed at Mortdecai’s curly schnozz—and any inkling that this review has far too many mustache jokes reflects the overabundance of them in the film itself.

Director David Koepp (Premium Rush) unfurls the action with madcap energy as Mortdecai and his manservant Jock Strapp (har, har!), played by a gamely over-the-top Paul Bettany, chase after the painting, fight some goons, fly to Russia, jaunt to Hollywood, cop a feel on a nymphomaniac, chat with Jeff Goldblum, and barf up some shellfish. (Mustache jokes in between, ’course.) Johanna, meanwhile, investigates on the sly while Alistair pines for her, and they both crisscross Mortdecai with double-entendres, larky playfulness, and, yes, more mustache jokes.

Mortdecai, for all its mustache gags, plays more like teen ’stache peach fuzz than full blown Chaplin whiskers. It looks gloriously expensive and there’s a sporadic sugar high to its confection, but it’s so terribly shrill and disposable that even the novelty of seeing so many stars and so much glamour can’t save the film’s strained screenplay by Eric Aronson, whose only other credit is the 2001 Lance Bass film On the Line. Depp’s performance is actually more disastrous than the screenplay is, since Mortdecai makes it feel as if Depp’s shtick has finally worn thin. Koepp virtually lets Depp direct the film himself and the star’s stab at being Peter Sellers doesn’t work. As one of the only people outside of the Golden Globe voters who actually likes The Tourist, it’s hard to imagine the film serving as a measure for stronger work in Depp’s filmography, but the eccentric actor is gratingly and desperately annoying here.

The Tourist serves as a much better (and I use the word “better” liberally here) serving of movie stars looking glamorous and throwing money around since it’s such a shamelessly stylish caper that one can’t help being swept up into its escapism. Mortdecai, on the other hand, never quite finds a style to match its over-caffeinated energy, nor is there any heft to the veneer of international intrigue. It’s not an all-out farce à la Austin Powers and it’s far more comparable to the Steve Martin Pink Panther movies than the Peter Sellers ones, although Depp and Bettany make an admirable stab at Clouseau-Kato camaraderie. Their repartee, however, hinges on more lame facial hair zingers in one film than Clouseau was ever subjected to in his mustachioed lifetime. :{

Rating: ★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Mortdecai is now playing in wide release.

What did you think of Mortdecai?