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January 23, 2015

I wanted to believe, despite it landing in the dump zone, that Mortdecai would be, if not great, at least an entertaining romp. It does have its moments, but as a whole it’s an unwieldy mass of affectations and half-baked ideas, with a silly mustache slapped on the whole thing.

In fact, it feels more than anything else like an insane twist on P.G. Wodehouse. I’m given to understand that Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel does actually nail the injection of a roguish element into the whole Jeeves-and-Wooster style, and I can see that working out well. Unfortunately, little of the charm seems to have made it into David Koepp’s adaptation.

Maybe it’s the fault of a screenwriter whose only other credit is a cash-grab by two members of NSYNC as the band was on its way out. After all, Koepp isn’t wholly without skill. And if you stop paying attention and just roll with it, Mortdecai has a similar madcap feel to Premium Rush. But where that movie had a solid through-line defining at all times where everyone is, where they want to be, and how they get there, this one is a rambling, disjointed affair that sprawls from one situation to another with little rhyme or reason.

The roguish version of Bertie Wooster is Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp), a serious contender for upper-class twit of the year with artificial quirks from a sympathetic gag reflex to a new mustache he’s growing, much to the chagrin of his wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow). His manservant is a thug named Jock (Paul Bettany) who seems no less capable than Jeeves, albeit in a rather different idiom more suited to the crime and action based story. Using his family fortune, he’s something of an art collector, and he’s not above dipping into the seedier side of that market. This makes him occasionally useful to Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), an acquaintance from Oxford with his own long-standing crush on Johanna.

On this particular occasion, a woman has been murdered while restoring a painting. International terrorist Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky) is involved, though it’s not quite clear just how Martland knows that. Sure, we saw him kill the woman and steal a painting before he got clubbed on the head by an unknown assailant, but he must have been gone before the body was discovered since he wasn’t arrested or anything. It’s a bit of a muddle, and that’s about the state of the movie as a whole.

Mortdecai is able to identify the missing painting as a famous lost Goya, which suddenly gets a whole new international rogues’ gallery involved, from a Chinese gangster (Junix Inocian) to a Russian kleptocrat (Ulrich Thomsen) to an American collector (Jeff Goldblum) and his nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn).

There’s so much going on at once, and every new complication is just thrown on top of the pile with little regard for reason or structure. And as fun as isolated sequences can be — sometimes Depp manages to fire on all comic cylinders again like he used to — nothing can ever build on anything else to really work. Now you’ll excuse my while I unsympathetically gag.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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