Johnny Depp’s performances have become synonymous with silly costumes and even sillier accents. Both of these affectations are present and correct in Mortdecai but they add to the 2015 film’s overall general over-the-top tone. David Koepp’s film is a romp but it’s a fun one that strives (and succeeds) to entertain. This may not be a great film but it a tremendous amount of fun.
Depp is Charles Mortdecai, an English Lord and art expert who is facing financial ruin and his wife (Gwyenth Paltrow) who is getting ready to leave him because he has grown a colossal moustache. He’s given a lifeline (financially, at least) when his old love rival Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) asks for his assistance in tracking down a stolen Goya painting. Mortdecai sets off with his trusty manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) to turn his circumstances around and win back the affections of his wife.
Mortdecai works because everyone is engaged in the material. It’s totally ridiculous of course but the A-list cast fully embrace the film’s far-fetched tone and make it worth your time. Depp hasn’t been this watchable in years, while Ewan McGregor delivers a winning James Bond audition – if the Brocolli family ever decide to return to the camp tone of the Roger Moore era. This is pastiche, a film that has its heart set in London during the swinging 60s but the crisp visuals are set in the present day. The shadow of The Avengers looms large over Koepp’s film but it also owes a debt to the 1934 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. However, if Mortdecai has a recent cinematic relative it’s Bruce Willis’ notorious 1991 film Hudson Hawk. Both are zany ‘60s influenced caper movies set in the art world, produced by their stars – and both bombed at the box office.
In a time when expensive franchise pictures are the order of the day, it’s good to see a slick, old fashioned studio comedy filled with top tier actors. It may never have connected with its intended audience and a $47 million global gross (from a $60 million budget) and terrible reviews denotes it didn’t, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. Mortdecai’s biggest crime may be that it set out to entertain – and it does that – in spades.