Friday, January 23, 2015

'Mortdecai' (2015) directed by David Koepp

In the absence of press screenings (always a worrying sign) I trooped up to Angel and forked out for a ticket. At the Islington Vue they directed me to a tiny screen I'd never even noticed before, tucked away under the stairs next to the fire exit. I was greeted with a small, empty cinema occupied solely by a bearded old man in a giant coat.  He nodded as I passed him, then I smelt the TCP.  The guy stank of it - he must have been glugging bottles of the stuff

Nobody else showed up. Ten minutes into Mortdecai I heard the sound of peaceful snoring, which proved to continue for the duration. I figure he came to the cinema purely for the warmth. I've got to commend him for getting something positive out of this experience, because all I got was a sucking sense of horror, disappointment and  boredom.

Mortdecai is an embarrassment for all involved; from Johnny Depp's crushingly unfunny lead through David Koepps's amateurish direction, through the score that sounds like The Real Slim Shady right down to the mangy mongrel of a script they're grinding their way through. Apparently Mortdecai is based on a series of books by a guy called Kyril Bonfiglioli, but I'll be damned if I've ever heard of them. Now, the advertising campaign for Mortdecai has been awfully vague about what this film is actually about, so let me fill you in.

Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is a wacky upper-class English art dealer who travels the world getting into unlikely scrapes with his manservant (Paul Bettany). He lives in some old country pile with his long suffering wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), who's exasperated at Mortdecai for frittering away their money on some kooky scheme or another. Now, after an £8 million tax bill, they're at the point of insolvency, selling their family heirlooms and even *gasp* considering opening the house to the public.

The film itself revolves around Mortdecai attempting to secure a long lost Goya painting that'll solve his worries and pay off his taxes. Heading the investigation is MI5's Martland (Ewan McGregor) a university friend of Mortdecai who's also in love with his wife. Tracking down the painting involves all kinds of unlikely scrapes, misunderstandings and crap puns. Naturally this is all hilarious.

Oh wait.


It's not hilarious. This is shit.

Mortdecai turns out to be the awful (yet logical) conclusion of Johnny Depp's success in Pirates of the Caribbean.  12 years ago he thrilled audience with the vulgar, semi-drunken louche Captain Jack Sparrow. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him; his performance singlehandedly launching a multibillion dollar franchise that still threatens multiplexes to this day. After Pirates nobody could tell Depp to stop acting like an ass, so we got Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Lone Ranger. With each self-consciously zany role Depp sacrificed a fragment of audience goodwill. Mortdecai marks the moment that goodwill runs out completely.

Watching him cavort about the screen is like watching a drunken uncle at a embarrass himself at a wedding. You cringe and watch through your fingers as he tries to chat up the bridesmaids, attempts to take the stage to sing with the band and crack bad jokes. Everyone sits there in frozen horror at what they're watching, wishing someone would take him outside and call him a cab.

Mortdecai is so stupendously crap that you might suspect it's some elaborate form of flagellation, a suicide pill of a script designed to torpedo careers. But Depp behaves as this is the height of humour, bumbling like a cut-rate Inspector Clouseau through lifeless slapstick and inane misunderstandings. At one particularly low point he has to shuffle down a corridor with a boner sticking out of his pants. Worryingly, there's no hint of shame as he does this -  as if Depp genuinely, truly believes that people will lap this shit up. I can only compare this sense of comedy delusion to Mike Myers' similarly disastrous The Love Guru.

It's difficult to convey just how off-putting the Mortdecai character is; constructed with the idea that we'll be charmed by his eccentricity and root for him against the squares. But the combination of Depp's comedy cockney accent, the stupid moustache and the sub-vocal wibblings add up to a truly hateful cinematic creation who you wish the very worst for.

An unhappy Paul Bettany
The rest of the cast approach the material with a combination of desperation and gritted-teeth professionalism. Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow do their level best to get through this unscathed, gingerly interacting with Depp as if he's a much-loved relative in the early stages of dementia. In Paul Bettany the misery is more obvious; this is a top class actor relegated to the role of moronic comedy butler. Stare into his eyes and you see a man resolving to not just sack, but brutally assault his agent. 

In every possible regard Mortdecai fucking sucks. Tragically everyone knows this but Depp, which is probably why this is being quietly squeaked into cinemas in the ass-end of January sans press screenings. I think it's time to stage an intervention:

Mr Depp, you need to stop. This is rock bottom. Put down the silly hats. Take off the beads. Throw away the eyeliner. For god's sake you're pissing away every happy memory audiences have of you. Look at Nicholas Cage - look at him - do you want to end up like that?! I didn't think so. Mr Depp, stop.

Please stop.

Mortdecai is released today.

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