In the pantheon of terrible Johnny Depp roles, two have recently stood out as egregiously bad. The first was Tusk, a movie that isn’t great, but becomes outright terrible when Depp is thrown into the mix. Thankfully, his character is not the focal point of the film and is played off as comedic relief, with a minor role in the latter half. Mortdecai is perhaps one of the worst roles Depp has taken on, and it is because the character of Charlie Mortdecai is only a slightly more intelligent version of Guy LaPointe (Depp’s role in Tusk) and is meant to be the primary reason we enjoy the film. The truth is, Charlie Mortdecai is the primary reason that the film is a travesty.
Based on the 1973 novel Don’t Point that Thing at Me, the film revolves around Charlie Mortdecai, an art dealer who owes a lot of money to the government. He also has recently grown quite the hideous, curly mustache. It is important that I note this because his mustache is the set up and the punchline to half the jokes in the film. If you don’t like those jokes, how about a manservant who manages to find the time during criminal activities to have sex with attractive women? Okay, well, if that doesn’t work then don’t worry, there’s an extended scene where Mortdecai attempts to get inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) to eat a piece of really moldy cheese.
If you can’t tell, Mortdecai is a comedy. But it’s a comedy using jokes that would probably have killed in a 1973 novel. It is a film that feels dated from the moment it begins because of how familiar the jokes feel. And if they don’t feel familiar when the film begins, they will be ingrained in your skull before it ends. A sympathetic gag reflex which Mortdecai has would have maybe been funny the first time, but the third time he mimics his wife Joanna’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) repulsion, I had forgotten that it was supposed to be funny. He has a really serious condition that someone should examine.
The actual premise of Mortdecai is extremely simple, almost as if the film was designed purely as a vehicle to showcase Depp being Depp. A rare Goya painting is stolen and Inspector Martland invokes the help of his mortal nemesis, Mortdecai, to aid in its retrieval – high jinks ensue. It’s a flimsy plot that allows for multiple endings so that you think you’re done with the movie, but really, you have another 20 minutes to go.
I cannot stress how important it is that you love Johnny Depp, or find any of the above jokes hilarious. If you do not fall into either of those categories, this movie is not for you. Even the former reason might be a stretch, but I swear people laughed in my theater. At fish-out-of-water jokes, no less. Someone laughed at the cheese joke. There is an audience out there, devouring Depp films at a breakneck pace and screaming “More! More!”, even if most of his roles in the past decade have just been a riff off of Jack Sparrow or that one Tim Burton character who is really eccentric and slightly insane.
For those that fall in the “I think he might need to take a break” category, Mortdecai will only strengthen your resolve. It is a bad movie, but I did not actively dislike it. Depp’s character is less annoying than Guy Lapointe of Tusk, but it is still pretty annoying. And everyone else in the film just seems like they are there for the easy paycheck. It isn’t as if any of them are doing something crazy in their roles. Paltrow stood out for me because she was the one I disliked least (okay, Jeff Goldblum shows up for a minute so he was my favourite performance), but even she isn’t stretching any acting muscles other than doing an aristocratic accent. Don’t encourage Depp by seeing this film. Although, I suppose I contributed already. Dammit.