Director David Koepp’s newest British spy parody, “Mortdecai,” proved to be a disappointingly witty film.
Rather than dazzling viewers with a character from a time gone by, it is more about an eccentric, in-debt art dealer who’s obsessed with his mustache.
Charlie Mortdecai, played by Johnny Depp, is an art aficionado deep in debt to a variety of unsavory characters from all around the world.
When a Francisco de Goya painting is stolen, Alistair Martland, played by Ewan McGregor, enlists Mortdecai to use his art connections to track it down.
This leads our protagonist into a fray of rather interesting villains.
Once the priceless lost Goya painting is discovered to contain numbers to a Nazi bank account, the stakes soar, and the number of strange characters interested in finding the painting multiplies.
The plotline is appropriately complex for a movie of this nature, but remains surprisingly easy to follow.
There’s the usual crop of twists and double crossings, but it’s all dealt with in a straightforward manner.
The film, based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s 1973 novel “Don’t Point That Thing at Me,” offers an explanation as to why this character feels so out of place and out of time.
In every way possible, Mortdecai sticks out like a sore thumb: his mannerisms, his clothing and, most obviously, his mustache.
It’s a look that is made more shocking by Koepp’s decision to set the film in present day rather than using its ample $60 million budget to set it in the ‘70s, which is when it was written.
While I doubt the time period change would have made much difference given the bad writing, it would have at least made the film a tad more sensible.
Despite the film’s faults, there was potential for it to be fun in a guilty pleasure kind of way.
Koepp does his best to instill a sense of life and vitality to an otherwise tame comedy. He’s working off Eric Aronson’s screenplay, which safely treads water, rarely taking any big risks and settling for small chuckles and smirks rather than the big laughs the audience was expecting from big names such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Goldblum and Olivia Munn.
However, some elements do work well with the attempted satire the film is trying to pull off.
Actor Paul Bettany as Mortdecai’s manservant/ bodyguard Jock works. The added trait of bedding every attractive woman Jock comes across turns a cliché on its head.
It’s not the typical suave leading man getting all the action this time around, but his sidekick.
The rest of the cast do fine work with what they’re given, such as Paltrow as Mortdecai’s wife, and Goldblum. It’s the script that gives them too little to do.
There are hints “Mortdecai” could have been a great movie, if it was only the kind of movie it ends up emulating.
The movie satires British crime capers rather than embodying them.
There’s a nagging feeling throughout the movie that the writers, director and actors are close to accomplishing what they set out to create, only to fall short from trying too hard.
Along with this, Depp’s performance as the titular character is more efforted than effortless. Depp never loses himself in the character, but certainly loses himself in the acting.
There is never a moment in the film when Mortdecai feels like a real person.
Instead it’s, “Hey, I’m Jonny Depp and I have a mustache and an accent.”
Without a doubt, “Mortdecai” will go down as one of 2015’s worst films, but the movie wasn’t without some measure of fun for me, personally, especially going into it with extremely low expectations.
As terrible as the writing was, the actors were good enough to keep me invested for its hour-and- 40-minute run time.
They made the characters charming despite their absurdities and kept the film from being a total bore.
Koepp’s direction kept things moving at a quick enough pace, but not quick enough to not question the plot’s stupidity.
Through all that, though, there isn’t much else for this film, which feels like a movie that would be more relevant as a ‘90s double-feature with “The Pink Panther.”
I don’t see “Mortdecai” lasting long in theaters; so if you are planning to see it, go before it gets booted out of the box office.
“Mortdecai” is playing at Conway’s Cinemark Theater and is rated R for some language and sexual material.