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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Mortdecai

So many stars, so little value.
By Sarah Ward
February 13, 2015
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By Sarah Ward
February 13, 2015
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Johnny Depp: is there anything he can’t do? Increasingly, the answer is yes, there’s plenty. Or, maybe it’s more about what he shouldn’t do. For proof, see his recent filmography.

From being a mainstay in Tim Burton’s movies, to playing Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow, to nodding nonsensically in disguise in Tusk, Depp’s career has become a parade of almost-indistinguishable quirky characters. He pulls silly faces, talks in a ridiculous voice and stumbles around as though he might fall over at any moment. The premises and predicaments change, but the former 1980s 21 Jump Street teen idol doesn’t, apart from costumes and make-up.

Mortdecai provides yet another example, with Depp the eccentric art dealer of the title. He comes from wealth – complete with a stylish wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), and a loyal manservant, Jock (Paul Bettany) — but owes the British government £8 million. To maintain his lifestyle, he agrees to help old pal, romantic rival and MI-5 agent Martland (Ewan McGregor) recover a stolen painting shrouded in mystery. A Russian assassin and Nazi treasures also feature.

The farcical film kicks off with calamity, ripping off Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a Hong Kong casino rendezvous ends in a shootout, and doesn’t improve from there. Disaster is key to the plot, with Mortdecai an awkward mix of Mr. Bean and The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, wreaking havoc wherever he goes — including Moscow and Los Angeles.

Disaster is also the only outcome possible for a movie that thinks overripe cheese and cheap port are the height of humour, labels one of its three prominent female characters as a nymphomaniac, and wrings many of its jokes out of gag-reflex reactions to moustaches. “You look like you have a vagina on your face,” Johanna tells Mortdecai in response to his hairy top lip. Yes, really.

To be fair to filmmaker David Koepp, who previously worked with Depp on Secret Window, he is taking his cues from existing material. 1973 novel Don't Point that Thing at Me started a series about the oddball aristocrat, but whatever cartoonish joys it may have had are lost in this energetic but overworked update. The flimsy script by Eric Aronson, best known for co-writing rom-com On the Line starring NSYNC’s Lance Bass and Joey Fatone, doesn’t assist matters. If Mortdecai was trying for a manic, frantic combination of smugness, superficiality, and stupidity, then it succeeds — though surely that wasn’t the aim.

As for Depp, he is as committed as ever, but also as tiresome. Sharing zero charisma with his co-stars makes every second he is on screen seem like an eternity; and while Paltrow, McGregor, Bettany, Jeff Goldblum and Oliva Munn easily overshadow him, they do so as stale stereotypes, and clearly bored and unhappy. Mortdecai, the man and the movie, just isn’t something anyone wants to spend time with. Chalk it up as one of the same supposedly comedic efforts Depp makes too many of, and everyone else should be running far away from.

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