It’s not exactly clear why Mortdecai exists, or what’s going on inside it. I have no idea for whom this movie was made.
Neither, apparently, does Lionsgate, whose ad campaign is now famous for its total incomprehensibility. A movie’s ad campaign is supposed to have some sort of something that makes you perk up and say, “Hey, I wanna watch this,” even if that thing is something as lowbrow as exploding robots and Meagan Fox. Mordecai’s official tagline, on the other hand, is “Sophistication has a name.” What’s this all about?
And so my working theory is that they screened the film for the marketing department, who then passed responsibilities off to an intern, and that intern called it like she saw it: Mortdecai really doesn’t have a way to justify its own existence.
The story (perhaps “story”) concerns the rapscallion art curator Mortdecai (Johnny Depp), who gets tangled up in a convoluted series of events involving MI6, a lost Goya painting, and communist assassins. I’ve made this appeal before, I’ll say it again: I would love to not summarize this movie. It doesn’t actually advance the review at all—it’s just not worth the time it takes to recap. Wikipedia has a really freakishly intricate plot summary on their website, so if it’s positively eating away at you, I’d point you there.
Mortdecai isn’t just a bad film, but it’s a thoroughly cringe-inducing one too—the kind where you can tell a joke was attempted, but nothing about it is ever funny. What little comic goodwill the movie earns up-front (Johnny Depp’s Jeeves-and-Woosterian back and forth with Paul Bettany is initially convincing) gets squandered by the end of the film. Did you like Mortdecai’s jokes the first time? Then you’ll love them the fourteenth.
For a comedy, Mortdecai isn’t very funny; for a mystery, the movie falls equally flat. Worse than being confusing, or involuted, or illogical, Mortdecai is just boring—scene after scene of jokes worthy of being cut from The Love Guru followed by Johnny Depp’s incessant mugging and high-pitched groaning. (And this is coming from someone with a nearly superhuman tolerance for Depp’s camera mugging.)
And, worse than maybe any of this, Mortdecai is a profoundly low-effort endeavor. Director David Koepp is a proven director (Premium Rush was really good) and a semi-prolific writer, so it’s not clear how he managed to make something as aimless and devoid of passion as Mortdecai. None of the actors communicate any excitement or energy, though it’s hard to blame them, considering the stop-and-start “Baby’s First Comedy” nature of the script.
Feeling much of anything about Mortdecai, on the face of it, just seems like a bad investment—after all, you’d just be putting more effort into disliking it than the creators spent making it. That’s the trouble with getting upset at something for being fundamentally lazy: any effort spent deriding them has already got you losing a war of attrition.
So when I said earlier that I wasn’t sure why the movie existed, I was maybe being dishonest. Clearly it’s as simple as “Johnny Depp + Silly Faces = $$$.”
There are, at least in theory, both laudable (singular) and derisible (myriad) aspects to the film. Of the former, hey, at least Depp and Paltrow’s characters believe that Commitment is Important. Of the latter, the movie’s got some serious problems with the tastelessness of its jokes. They’re tasteless enough to be uncomfortable, without pushing so far into tastelessness that becomes clear the filmmakers don’t agree with the tastelessness—this uncomfortable middle ground is known as the “14-Year Old Boy Tasteless Humor Zone,” and it’s a miserable place to be.
For example: the film’s designation of Olivia Munn’s character as a “nympho,” immediately following which all characters on screen wait a beat for the audience to finish laughing (the audience never did laugh in my screening, except maybe out of discomfort—the difference is audible). As if the idea of “nymphos” is intrinsically funny enough to be a joke in its own right. Or that character’s father offhand remark that Mortdecai might have the opportunity to “take” her before dinner starts, following which Mortdecai stares almost straight into the camera and Depp contorts his face yet again while a “zoinks!” sound goes off in our collective imagination.
Almost in closing: Mortdecai is a lazy movie that’ll have you clawing to get out of your seat by the end of its 100 minutes. Honestly, I was squirming by the half-hour mark.
In actual closing: Ewan McGregor can do no wrong. His scenes are the only ones worth enduring, and he deserved better.
Two f—ks, a half-dozen second tier d—ns and h—lls, some British swear words that we Sam’s Nephews won’t mind, and a couple innuendos and euphemisms. There’s a lot of bloodless fighting in the movie, and a few on-screen deaths about as graphic as a Monty Python skit. Bettany’s character beds a bunch of ladies over the course of the film, including a young mother on an airplane—at one point, we hear his (and his lover’s) sounds from a nearby room. The aforementioned “nympho” daughter requests that Depp grope her, and he assents. We see a flashback to Paltrow and Depp having sex in college—she’s naked on top, but ain’t no technical nudity.
Despite this film’s overall “Low-effort Garbage” status, it’s strange to me that it received an R-rating from the MPAA. I can list five movies off the top of my head from 2014 that got a PG-13 with worse content. Not complaining, however; the more people kept out of this film, the better.
Jackson Cuidon lives and works in New York City with his wife Sarah and a constantly rotating selection of coffee beans. Follow his semi-annual updates on Twitter @jxscott