I think it’s probably a safe bet that most people will know that Mortdecai wasn’t exactly popular with film critics when it arrived on cinema screens. Actually, most gave it the critical equivalent of the beating Private Pile received from his squad mates in Full Metal Jacket. Even knowing all of this though, we wanted to like Mortdecai. It has a solid cast and reasonably funny trailer going for it and – if nothing else – the negative reviews should lower our expectation bar to a suitable level to at least enjoy the film.
And then the film started.
What strikes you first is how oddly flat the whole thing instantly feels, starting with Depp’s opening narration and exchange with some bad guys that leads into one of the dullest fight scenes committed to film. We think it’s meant to be funny, but the jokes don’t ever land and the slapstick of the fight ends up being on a par with a You’ve Been Framed video clip. We wanted to laugh at it. Our brain even told us that we should at least try and raise a smile at the attempt at humour, but it just wouldn’t happen.
It’s a shame, because we’re big fans of the screwball caper comedies of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s that the film is trying to emulate. We’d love to see some modern takes on that era of comedy and part of us wants to admire the film for at least trying to bring it back. But that’s the overall problem with the film; it’s trying to emulate that style! There is an ease to those films that made the comedy feel natural and hid the work and effort that went into crafting a joke.
In Mortdecai you can see the multiple behind-the-scenes meetings that led to the “joke” we’re supposed to be seeing on screen. We’ve not read it, but apparently the book on which this film is based is a fantastically funny read that was tailor-made for a big screen adaptation. So why does it fail so spectacularly?
It would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of Johnny Depp. His track record since the first Pirates of the Caribbean film has been patchy at best. All the praise he received for playing Jack Sparrow that first time has been an albatross around his neck, with every producer, executive and director wanting to capitalise on that Pirates box office by unleashing the zany Depp (and we include the last three Pirates films in that list).
It’s not really Depp’s fault. As an actor you can understand his desire to play characters that are a little more out there. If nothing else, it must make his days at work more interesting and – to be fair - when he does it well, it’s a treat for the audience. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t seem to be given the films or supporting characters that are descent enough to surround his zaniness with. And that’s the problem here.
The supporting cast are wasted in forgettable roles that could have been played by anyone and largely seem to be there to set Depp up for his next bout of zany antics. If any of them come away with any kind of dignity it’s probably Paul Bettany, but that is damning with faint praise given what he is up against.
With films like Stir of Echoes and Ghost Town under his belt, David Koepp has proved himself as a capable director in the past and there are some attempts at quirk and flare on screen here, but they feel forced, oddly jarring and out of place in a film that they should slot seamlessly into. The film needed a director like Steven Soderbergh who could have brought a kind of style and feel to the film that Koepp seems unable to achieve.
If a comedy can at least entertain you, it is possible to enjoy it, even if you don’t find it funny. Unfortunately Mortdecai fails to even do that and instead manages to be both boring and unfunny. The direction is flat, the writing is flat, the editing is flat, and the performances and delivery of the lines are flat. And with the all the talent that is involved in the making of the film, that really shouldn’t be the case. All of them should have known better and, sadly, all of them are to blame for the end result.
As for the extras, they consist of two documentaries (Stolen Moments: The Making of Mortdecai and The Art of Noise: Making Music for Mortdecai), both of which are as dull as the main film, with Stolen Moments in particular featuring talking head interviews - in which cast members remind you of better films you should have watched instead – and on set outtakes that are even less funny than the finished scenes in the film!
Special Features: Two documentaries
INFO: MORTDECAI / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: DAVID KOEPP / SCREENPLAY: ERIC ARONSON / JOHNNY DEPP, GWYNETH PALTROW, EWAN MCGREGOR, PAUL BETTANY, OLIVA MUNN / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 8TH