Mortdecai

I was thinking…

…with the number of films in which Gwyneth Paltrow plays a Brit and the fact that she even married one, albeit temporarily, it’s a wonder she doesn’t just stay over there and keep her pasty face out of the U.S. altogether. It would certainly reduce the number of our children with stupid names.

But she is just one of a slew of actors altering their accents in Mortdecai–the most obvious one being the incomparable Johnny Depp, of course. His choice of vocal alteration is quite different from that of his Captain Jack Sparrow incarnation, however, as the character is from a much higher breed (in England that tends to be synonymous with in-breed) than the scurvy scalawag.

In Mortdecai, Depp plays the titular character, Lord Charlie Mortdecai, a charming rogue who dabbles in the world of black market art deals, occasionally being called upon by Her Majesty’s Secret Service to help them fight enemies of the crown.

He’s arrogant, selfish, pompous, a tad pusillanimous, and yet oddly resourceful, quick-witted and crafty. The fact that he is also consistently emasculated by his wife Johanna, (the aforementioned Paltrow, Iron Man) and staring at an eight million pound tax debt simply makes him a more interesting character.

His manservant, Jock, played by Paul Bettany (Iron Man, The Da Vinci Code), is eternally patient, unswervingly loyal and has a quite insanely insatiable libido. He’s always having a go at the birds, as they would say across the pond. Without him, Mortdecai would assuredly be dead 30 times over. Without Mortdecai, Jock would not have been accidentally shot at least three times.

The film boils down to this: when MI5’s Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars prequel trilogy) learns of a stolen Goya painting that may or may not have a code that can access a long-concealed cache of Nazi gold, he reluctantly asks for Mortdecai’s involvement. Unfortunately, Mortdecai is not the only one looking for the painting and access to the code. Other Brits, Americans, filthy Spaniards and even filthier Russians are in the race as well.

Sounds interesting enough, right? And with quite the list of high-pedigree actors, nonetheless. So, why does the film fall short of what it could have otherwise been?

Simply put, it did not push hard enough. There were elements of it that are essential to a good story of these mixed genres, but those elements were present in woefully limited amounts.

It was humorous, but it seemed like it couldn’t decide just what level of humor it was trying to achieve. It had moments of absurdity, yet it never crossed into the territory of the absurd like the films of the Zucker Brothers have so successfully done.

It had mystery, but did not spend enough time digging into that mystery. We were presented with the mystery and then given the solution without any real clues or time to try to work it our for ourselves. Sherlock Holmes would have said it was a mystery worthy of Inspector Lestrade.

It had action, but it also seemed to tiptoe the line between comedy action and absurd action. I could not help but think of the moment in the first Austin Powers movie in which Austin is hit in the face by Random Task’s weapon of choice. We are led to believe it will be as lethal as that of Odd Job’s bowler hat in Goldfinger, but Mike Myers’ character simply rubs his head and yells, “Ow, that really hurt. Who throws a shoe? Honestly?” That is the level of comic action for which Mortdecai should have been striving.

Speaking of Austin Powers, there was definitely that feel for the films of the 1960’s and early 70’s throughout Mortdecai. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the book from which the movie is derived was published in 1973. The music, the style and even the story could have just as easily taken place in that era and not felt at all out of place. It was a grace of the movie.

Unfortunately, it needed quite a few more graces in order to be saved.

Ammo Dump rating: 4 out of 10 mustaches.

Mortdecai
Rated R
Run time: 107 minutes

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