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Mortdecai: A light and frothy caper

Updated January 27, 2015

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Johnny Depp with Olivia Munn. - Photo courtesy: imgbox.com
Johnny Depp with Olivia Munn. - Photo courtesy: imgbox.com

The handlebar moustache clearly should have gotten second billing in the comic caper Mortdecai since it is its one and only punchline.

Based on the novel 'Don’t Point That Thing At Me' by Kyril Bonfiglioli, acclaimed director David Koepp and writer Eric Aronson translate this 1970s cult comic thriller onto the screen. Only, the movie has fewer thrills and even less comedy; think 007 with none of his charm, intellect or gadgetry.

The plot revolves around aristocratic art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) familiar with the seamier side of the business, being arm twisted into investigating the case of a stolen Goya (no, not this one) by his one-time rival MI5’s Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor).

The Goya, in question here is in fact, a piece of work by Spanish painter Francisco José de Goya, which is rumoured to contain a code that leads to lost Nazi gold.

McGregor and Depp play rivals in Mortdecai. - Photo courtesy: Tumblr
McGregor and Depp play rivals in Mortdecai. - Photo courtesy: Tumblr

Martland dangles Mortdecai’s bankruptcy like the sword of Damocles, one that he would be only too happy to drop as he continues to carry the flame for Mrs. Johanna Mortdecai. (Gwyenth Paltrow).

Over the course of 106 minutes traipsing through England, Russia and the new colonies (America), Mordecai and his faithful man-servant Jock (Paul Bettany) set off in grand style to recover the missing painting while wife Johanna, more successfully snoops around on her own.

Bettany plays Depp's loyal sidekick. - Photo courtesy: Tumblr
Bettany plays Depp's loyal sidekick. - Photo courtesy: Tumblr

Hot (well lukewarm) on the trail, Mortdecai encounters Russian mobsters, an international terrorist (mercifully neither Arab nor Muslim) and an American buyer, along with his promiscuous daughter. Bumbling and mostly inept, he is saved by the skin of his gap-teeth by Jock literally taking the bullet on his behalf and relies on his wife’s smarts to solve this international mystery.

Is there an oddball character that Johnny Depp has not played? He looks like he is having way too much fun spouting the stiff or should we say spiffy, upper lip with all its aristocratic bearings, such as bankruptcy and unintended celibacy.

Depp plays Mortdecai as an out and out goofball with a plummy British accent that never sticks quite as strongly as his waxed ‘stash. When was the last time you heard the male lead of a crime thriller say: “Head to the library!”?

Depp sports interesting facial hair in the movie. - Photo courtesy: thewrap.com
Depp sports interesting facial hair in the movie. - Photo courtesy: thewrap.com

It’s easier to see why Gwenyth Paltrow jumped at this chance to outsmart the men here and is lovely and charming as “the apple of his eye” as she is resourceful. The other actors are at their campy best in their roles, though Jeff Goldblum and Olivia Munn had little to do.

Also of note is the high production value and attention to detail which gets everything delightfully right from the ever present crystal decanters to sock garters. If wry British humour is not your cup of tea, then Mortdecai might not be the film for you. It’s not laugh out loud stuff, but rather, clever banter delivered in an offhand blink-and-you’ll-miss-it manner.

Gwenyth Paltrow is delightful as Mrs. Johanna Mortdecai. - Photo courtesy: Tumblr
Gwenyth Paltrow is delightful as Mrs. Johanna Mortdecai. - Photo courtesy: Tumblr

Still, the one running joke is stretched out too long and save for one visual hipster hirsute gag, the rest of the humour relies on bawdy jokes that fall flat. The ones that do make you laugh, such as lines about affairs, Eton and the feudal spirit, are almost carelessly tossed in. The film never quite comes together as a cohesive whole but as a light and frothy caper, it delivers.

So what of the Goya and the Mortdecai insolvency status? Did it end well then? You’ll have to see for yourself.

Rating: 3/5


Sadaf Siddique is freelance writer, film and drama critic still seeking a comfortable armchair.