Misguided from start to finish, Mortdecai sees Johnny Depp over-value quirkiness in a sorry excuse for a 1960s inspired caper comedy that suggests the actor's taste for chameleonic, off-centre performances may be overstaying its welcome.
By now, in the wake of his surreal Tonto in The Lone Ranger and Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows - two under-achieving films in themselves - , there's a sense Mr. Depp's never safe career choices are becoming more and more safe and unexpected. Still, there was enough interesting material at the heart of the premise of Mortdecai to make it work: the character created in the 1970s by writer Kyril Bonfiglioli in a short series of comic capers, a foppish, bankrupt British aristocrat with a seedy reputation as an art dealer not averse to breaking the law, and here searching for a legendary lost painting that may hold the key to a fortune, is tailor-made for the actor's gallery of lovable rogues.
But the choice of veteran Hollywood A-list screenwriter and B-movie director David Koepp to handle is a bewildering case of miscasting. Better off working within more serious genre constraints - see the massively entertaining Premium Rush -, Mr. Koepp seems to be here as a mere director-for-hire (and friend to the star/producer), almost entirely lacking in the wit required for a film that wants to be somewhere between Mike Myers' Austin Powers spoofs and British capers of the sixties and seventies like The Italian Job (cue the "with-it" soundtrack with contributions from producer-of-the-moment Mark Ronson).
In the right hands, its attempt at dry, crisp deadpan might work well enough, but Mr. Koepp plays it far too heavy-handedly; what should have been fleet-footed and light turns out stilted and stodgy, what ought to be elegantly throwaway like an afterthought just stays there hanging in mid-air. The cast is literally adrift, looking like everyone's in a different film: only a pitch-perfect Gwyneth Paltrow (as Mortdecai's wife) and Paul Bettany (as his factotum) seem to have fully understood where the right film lies, everybody else being on a sliding scale of overly broad pantomime that never fully coalesces into a serious comedy. Despite the odd nonsensical gag, Mortdecai is quite embarrassing.
Cast Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Jeff Goldblum, Paul Bettany
Director David Koepp; screenwriter Eric Aronson; based on the novel by Kyril Bonfiglioli Don't Point That Thing at Me; cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister (colour, widescreen); composers Geoff Zanelli and Mark Ronson; designer James Merifield; costumes Ruth Myers; editors Jill Savitt and Derek Ambrose; producers Andrew Lazar, Mr. Depp, Christi Dembrowski and Patrick McCormick; production companies Lionsgate Films, Oddlot Entertainment, Infinitum Nihil and Mad Chance Productions
Screened January 21st 2015, UCI El Corte Inglés 14, Lisbon (distributor press screening)