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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Mortdecai movie review: stinking mishap

Mortdecai red light

This painfully unfunny spoof of teddibly British nonsense couldn’t be less amusing if it were actually calculated to be totally laugh-free.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): the trailer was dire

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The strained desperation wafting off Mortdecai is as stinky as… Well, there’s one scene in this painfully unfunny and wildly unfocused spoof of teddibly British nonsense in which the attempt at humor revolves around whether Ewan McGregor’s (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Jack the Giant Slayer) suave MI-5 agent will eat a piece of fetid cheese he has been offered to accompany his glass of port — haha! smelly English cheese! — while Johnny Depp’s (Transcendence, The Lone Ranger) shady art dealer and dead-broke aristocrat Lord Charlie Mortdecai regales him with an anecdote about a fart; haha! flatulence? If cinema could somehow capture smells the way it captures sights and sounds, that odor, as intestinal gas and old cheese intertwine, would be the official stench of this trial of a movie, which couldn’t be less amusing if it were actually calculated to be totally laugh-free. (It looks like director David Koepp’s last film, Premium Rush, was an anomaly among his string of teddibly terrible movies.)

Mortdecai is — I suspect — meant to be somehow enchanting in a scandalously roguish sort of way, as he bumbles around being a complete upper-class-twit-of-the-year moron, but he’s an unappealing toad. (The only genuine mystery here, in a story that’s ostensibly about a missing Goya masterpiece that might lead the way to a hidden Nazi fortune, is why anyone imagined Depp’s Mortdecai would be anything other than an unappealing toad.) I imagine it’s also meant to be clever and witty how his manservant, the bruiser Jock (Paul Bettany: Transcendence, Iron Man 3), is completely irresistible to women, and how his wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow: Iron Man 3, The Avengers) does all the real sleuthing, as well as everything else that’s going to save the Mortdecai estate from the taxman. But all those slices of exhausted idiocy do is allow for Koepp to slide lots of anonymous and often half-naked women onto the screen (as they’re batting postcoital eyes at Jock) and bypass the smartest and most intriguing character the film has to offer (that would be Johanna) in favor of celebrating, as a gazillion other movies have done, the antics of a crude, stupid man who believes he is brilliant and sophisticated. And even that would be okay if there was anything like a hint of entertainment or actual, you know, social satire to be found amongst the shenanigans.

Apparently the novels these are based on have been compared to those of P.G. Wodehouse, and Mortdecai and Jock to Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. If that’s a fair parallel — while it’s not mentioned here, Jock’s surname in the books is “Strapp,” so I kind of doubt it — there is absolutely no indication of it onscreen.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Mortdecai for its representation of girls and women.


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Mortdecai (2015)
US/Can release: Jan 23 2015
UK/Ire release: Jan 23 2015

MPAA: rated R for some language and sexual material
BBFC: rated 12A (infrequent strong language, moderate sex references, violence)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    “Johnny Depp! He can do kooky/funny, right?”

    The books were written in the 1970s, when the idea of a protagonist being actually useless and propped up by the people around him could still be vaguely fresh and funny. I’ll give one of them a try.

  • Beowulf

    JD better start making better role decisions while he still can. He’s getting close to the point where his age and lack of successful (and I don’t necessarily mean financially only) films will begin to limit his choices. Yes, he’ll go back to the “Pirates” well at least one more time, but he’s walking awfully near to the edge of the cliff.

  • Qwash

    Exactly how much more garbage can Depp’s name be associated with before we all admit that he is epically over-rated?

    The Shyamalan scale of over rated disappointments should be renamed the Depp scale.

  • Tonio Kruger

    This sounds suspiciously like an attempt to reboot the Austin Powers franchise without actually using Austin Powers. As I seem to recall, those movies had the same problem as this one: aspiring to be taken seriously as film parodies while at the same time employing the same lowbrow humor gags that critics usually love to hate. At one point, the critics actually gave credit to the first two movies for employing the same type of sight gags that Benny Hill used for years.

    Once again, the more things change…Only this time the formula that worked so well for Austin Powers is not working.

  • Beowulf

    The Austin Powers flix were funny, if admittedly juvenile humor. MORTIFIED just made $4 million this weekend in the U.S.
    That’s how you spell flop.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Well, it didn’t help that this movie was released in the middle of January — usually a bad month for new releases — with little if any publicity. At least the Austin Powers movies got a big advertising buildup in the States prior to their release. I’m not going to pretend that those movies were my cup of tea but at least the type of people who were likely to be interested in them were made aware of them before they hit the local theatres. This one seems more to have been just dumped — which probably says something about how much faith the studio had in it.

  • RogerBW

    It took me a while to get round to the book, but I can now report that it was similarly without charm. Though the idea of Charlie being utterly incompetent is apparently new for the film; in the book he’s a lush, but also a successful crooked art dealer and decent in hand-to-hand combat. Blog review to follow.

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