Movie review: ‘Mortdecai’
Directed by David Koepp
Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Jeff Goldblum, Jonny Pasvolsky
Rated R, Comedy,107 minutes
In this film Johnny Depp appears as Mortdecai, a British dolt who emerges from a series of potentially disastrous scrapes unscathed. Recalling the incredible luck of Peter Seller’s Chief Inspector Clouseau, Mortdecai is repeatedly saved from gruesome fates by his fearless, dedicated manservant, Jock Strapp (played by Paul Bettany).
Adapted from the 1973 Kyril Bonfiglioli novel “Don’t Point That Thing at Me,” the script, penned by Eric Aronson, is a harmless, mannerly amusement eliciting more smiles than laughs.
An art dealer selling stolen goods, Mortdecai lives large on his country estate, despite owing Her Majesty 8 million pounds in back taxes.
Mortdecai is mere days from losing his home when Inspector Alistair Martland (played as a lovesick puppy by Ewan McGregor) forces Mortdecai to help the government recover a newly identified Goya. If successful, Mortdecai’s debt will be forgiven and he’ll receive a tidy finder’s fee.
As the film opens Mortdecai’s new mustache prompts barbs from friend and foe alike. Gwyneth Paltrow, portraying Mortdecai’s wife Johanna, is revolted by his new twirly handlebar mustache. Mortdecai declares he and Johanna must embrace the facial hair historically sported by his ancestors, prompting Johanna to withdraw her physical affections until he relents.
Eventually Mortdecai persuades his wife that she is wrongly refusing his overtures and plants a fuzzy-lipped kiss on Johanna that stimulates her overactive gag reflex. Coincidentally, Mortdecai is prone to a sympathetic gag reflex, prompting each to turn away from the other to regain gastrointestinal control, a gambit assuring there will be no intimacy.
Mortdecai seeks refuge in his manservant’s cottage, only to find Jock entertaining a partially clad female. Jock repeatedly engages in ill-advised liaisons, sometime’s obligating the pair to flee at the point of a shotgun. Mortdecai largely overlooks this inconvenience due to Jock’s fierce loyalty and because Mortdecai has accidentally shot Jock on more than one occasion.
With Mortdecai and Jock chasing leads on the Goya round the globe, Inspector Alistair Martland is free to pursue Johanna, for whom he has carried a torch since college, even after she inexplicably chose Mortdecai.
The most strategic-minded character, Johanna remains steadfastly loyal to her imbecilic hubby, pursuing further information about the missing Goya from Alistair. Suspecting there’s more to this missing art situation than Alistair admits, Johanna invites him to lunch, where she uses his hope of an illicit affair to pry the truth from him.
Flaunting Alistair’s interest to put Mortdecai in touch with the depth of his feelings for her, Johanna ably wraps Mortdecai around her little finger.
Once again Johnny Depp proves he can slip into virtually any character by rearranging the tilt of his head and coordinating his devious smiles with a series of arched eyebrows.
To call “Mortdecai” mildly diverting is perhaps to damn it with feint praise, but the film does a few things right, relying on adult-oriented, but not offensive comedy to retain our interest. This strategy may not make for an especially memorable film, but it does make for a pleasant experience that leaves us feeling better than when we arrived.
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