Remember when Johnny Depp used to be cool? I do, back in the magical time known as the late ‘90s that we all view with the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia. I remember, living in my mom’s small apartment in downtown Portland, surreptitiously watching “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on VHS and thinking, “man, this Depp guy is pretty cool.” Imagine the disappointment I felt watching the blatant cash grab movies such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the “Alice in Wonderland” reboot that totally ruined Depp’s esteem as an actor. This disappointment was further increased after watching “Mortdecai,” another dumb, hackneyed Depp film devoid of any artistic merit.
Depp stars at the titular character Mortdecai, a roguish art dealer with an ear-gratingly fake British accent who has been tasked with retrieving a stolen painting in an attempt to stave off financial ruin that threatens to destroy his jet-setting, lavish lifestyle. His quest is hampered by various rival art dealers, angry Russians and a foreign terrorist leader so cartoonishly caricatured that he could have been played by Sasha Baron Cohen. The film tries to sell itself as some sort of complex spy-thriller, with various factions backstabbing each other in their attempts to recover the painting to fulfill their own agendas, but the whole plot becomes so convoluted that the entire narrative falls apart about half an hour in. The film seems to confuse “complex” with “convoluted,” and the fact that everything is resolved in the last five minutes of the film comes across as lazy and disingenuous. Most of the characters are introduced in a lazy voiceover, shown on-screen for a few minutes, and quickly forgotten, creating a rushed, poorly paced mess.
There’s no character even remotely relatable, and the lack of any sort of grounding or clear character motivations left me in the dark. Typically, a film features something called a “protagonist.” The protagonist is usually the main character, and over the course of the film he faces some sort of obstacle. This is typically called an “arc.” Mortdecai’s entire arc is that his wife wants him to shave his moustache, and at the end she decides to let him keep it. That’s it. The main character has no growth, no reflection and as a result the entire plot feels token and purely exists for the film to exist. The money troubles Mortdecai is facing that drive the whole plot are ignored in the closing denouement, and most of the villains that would likely want to punish Mortdecai for outwitting them all give up and go home, just because the script needs them too. When characters act in illogical ways and nothing of note happens, the film lacks any relatability for the audience — and I lost all engagement in the plot.
I feel like the issues I brought up are covered in screenwriting 101, and I have no explanation as to how veteran director David Koepp could misstep so horribly. Even the main character, Mortdecai, is unlikeable, and him getting away with everything at the end really let me down. Imagine if, in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort had succeeded and continued living his lavish, excessive lifestyle instead of losing everything he had worked to create. It would have been a terrible, unsatisfying ending that ruined the film, which is what we’re left with in “Mortdecai.”
Bad screenwriting and terrible characters aside, the main issue in “Mortdecai” is simple: It’s a comedy movie that didn’t make me laugh. Not once. I’m sure we’ve all seen films that have glaring plot holes and illogical characters that are partially saved by having some humorous dialogue and actual comedy. “Mortdecai” lacks any humor, and the screening I saw was so quiet and devoid of laughter that a casual observer of the audience’s reactions would have thought we were watching a documentary on the Rwandan Genocide. The humor was handled with all the depth and complexity of Pauly Shore performing stand-up at your grandmother’s funeral. Terrible screenwriting and hammy acting aside, a laughless comedy is the very definition of failure.
The only reason I decided to give “Mortdecai” any stars instead of zero is because I felt that the screenwriters and some of the supporting actors, such as Ewan McGregor and Jeff Goldblum, were at least trying. Trying and failing, but trying nonetheless. A more focused narrative and a recasting of the lead role could have made this film mediocre instead of abysmally bad, and some of the lowbrow, “Family Guy” types of moviegoers may actually find the film humorous and engaging. That being said, please don’t pay any money to actually go and see “Mortdecai.” The studio behind its production has said that they plan to make a sequel, and if they make any sort of profit, they may deliver on their threat.
Rating: 0.5 stars