Certain tropes reappear in cinema so frequently that we might as well consider them laws of nature. Serious actors + empowering real life story = Oscar. Seth Rogan + fart jokes = comedy. These are simplistic and well-trodden concepts, but they work.

Mortdecai

C+
Lionsgate
Rave and Goodrich Quality 16


“Mortdecai” takes a stab at its own genre specific equation, picking English Dandy off the cinematic shelves and tossing it in the medley with International Heist and Frivolous Antics. And we can’t forget the mustaches. Because those are hip and funny, right?

Not always, kids.

The eponymous protagonist Charles Mortdecai (Johnny Depp, “Pirates of the Caribbean”), a well-groomed and perpetually featherbrained art dealer, gets tangled up in a scheme to recover a lost Goya painting. Not only is the painting a masterpiece, it also supposedly contains Hermann Goering’s lucrative bank account details. Clearly, many people are after this painting, but Mortdecai must get his hands on it first. Illegal at times, this caper takes Mortdecai dangerously close to Russian thugs, nymphomaniac daughters and fellow art rivals. All this while an MI6 agent cozies up to Mortdecai’s beautiful wife (Gwyneth Paltrow, “Shakespeare in Love”) and cracks in the marriage emerge.

“Mortdecai” flounders because its foundational components are too iconic to rebrand under another name. It’s too easy to tease out the film’s inspirations. It touches on Wes Anderson kitsch through a “Pink Panther”-style slapstick comedy lens. In fact, Mortdecai seems like a direct synthesis of Jacques Clousseau and Gustave H. Its storyline also evokes that of the “Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is painfully obvious considering that “Grand Budapest” was released less than a year ago. In this film, the equation that originally arose from pure receptivity now becomes a sophomoric crutch to borrow from already successful predecessors.

Mortdecai himself, the supposed heartbeat of the film, isn’t as powerful of a character as he needs to be. His charm can’t support his arrogance, nor does his debonair background contrast sharply enough with his clumsiness. There’s also the added issue that the audience must stomach Depp and Paltrow’s gratingly awful English accents for two whole hours. The entire film revolves around Mortdecai’s eccentricities, and though everything seems to align, he fails to lock it all together, as it falls flat in the end. It’s disappointing to see Depp, a powerhouse actor, bumbling around in a role like this.

If the audience can overlook the film’s many hurdles, we’re rewarded with at least a few decently funny gags. After all, it does stick to the tried-and-true formula, and maybe mustaches really can invoke laughter. But it still can’t cancel out the gravity of “Mortdecai” ’s biggest sin: it just tried way, way too hard.

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