When anyone involved in film production reads a book that they think would make a great movie, it’s nice to think that they set out with the best of intentions in pursuit of bringing what they feel is a wonderful piece of literature to life. For example, when Johnny Depp read Kyril Bonfiglioli’s “Mortdecai Trilogy,” he sincerely thought that it would be an entertaining adventure with lots of laughs thrown in, but as is so often the case with adaptations, what is planned and what actual occurs are two entirely different things.
Based on the first novel of the trilogy (“Don’t Point That Thing at Me”), “Mortdecai” follows the adventures of the titular art dealer (Johnny Depp), who is brought onto a case by an old rival of his, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), involving a lost Goya painting. While the painting was supposedly being cleaned, it was stolen due to an old legend that tells of a secret bank account number being written on the back during World War II. In a rather bumbling, foolish fashion, Mortdecai travels around the world with his trusty manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) trying to ascertain who has it, all the while having significant problems at home with his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), who may or may not have an attraction to the Inspector. Mortdecai’s life is in constant danger as he deals with thugs everywhere he goes, but it’s certainly to be expected when millions of pounds are at stake.
It would appear that the entire intention behind “Mortdecai” was to make a film along the same lines as Blake Edwards’ comedy classic “The Pink Panther,” including its very own Inspector Clouseau-esque character in the bumbling Charlie Mortdecai. That’s certainly a lofty goal to strive for, but as we see with the result, it was quite beyond the reach of those involved. “Mortdecai” is far too lacking in charm, wit, entertainment, and class to come even remotely close. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but nowhere within will you find a joke that hits its mark. However, while there are no laughs to be found, there are plenty of groans to be had, if only because of the film’s incredibly repetitive nature.
Screenwriter Eric Aronson (whose only other credit is a film called “On the Line,” starring Lance Bass and Joey Fatone) seems to think that, just because a joke isn’t funny, doesn’t mean it can’t be used several times, or perhaps, if it doesn’t work the first time, it might land on the fifth or sixth try. The “running gags” include constant references to Mortdecai’s moustache (a feature he loves, but everyone else deplores), Jock’s constant lasciviousness, and Mortdecai accidentally hurting Jock on multiple occasions. Apparently Aronson couldn’t come up with anything else, so he felt the need to take a small group of jokes and use them over and over again, which is the main cause as to why the film remains bereft of amusement.
Now we must unfortunately turn to Johnny Depp’s misguided attempt at bringing the character of Charlie Mortdecai to life. There has rarely been a Depp performance that I haven’t liked. In fact, the only one that comes right to mind as being a complete misstep in his career is his reimagining of Willy Wonka in the not-particularly-good “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” As mentioned, for his role as Mortdecai, he seems to want to channel Peter Sellers’ brilliant performance as Inspector Clouseau, the infamous detective from “The Pink Panther” series, but instead of being charming and amusing, he is simply annoying as he fumbles through the case, referencing his moustache every five minutes. It’s one of those performances where you really wish he would have studied the dailies closely and realized that it just wasn’t working out the way he thought it would. It takes a lot more to bring such a character to life aside from simply being uppity and clueless, but sadly it would appear that he didn’t realize this, resulting in another stumble that we have to put right alongside Wonka.
This was simply a project that was ill-advised from the start given its dull, one-note approach. Perhaps it worked well in book form (Bonfiglioli’s novels have apparently reached cult status), but as a film, it’s tiresome and unfunny, especially with it trying to go for the easiest jokes possible. All-in-all, it will simply be remembered, if at all, as another dud in a long chain that Depp has been forging recently (not counting his one scene in the decent “Into the Woods”), for “Mortdecai” is just another of many examples where even those best of intentions go completely awry.
From the very opening frames, you can tell that there’s something not quite right with the 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer. It’s still very watchable, but there’s a definite slight fuzziness to the picture that could have used one more pass when trying to achieve the optimal image. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, however, is excellent, giving you all elements of the soundtrack in excellent quality. Overall, it balances out to a satisfactory treatment for the film’s Blu-ray debut, ensuring a decent experience.
Stolen Moments: On the Set of Mortdecai: A 16-minute featurette that features lots of behind the scenes footage and interviews with most of the cast, who discuss bringing Bonfiglioli’s book to life. Worth taking a look at.
The Art of Noise: Making Music for Mortdecai: A 12-minute featurette that focuses on scoring the film, featuring interviews with the composers. If this is an area that interests you, you may find it worth watching.
“Mortdecai” is a completely misguided attempt at bringing Kyril Bonfiglioli’s beloved cult characters to the screen, utilizing unfunny jokes that are repeated ad nauseum, and featuring a downright embarrassing performance from Johnny Depp. It is rather impressive that such a cast was assembled for the project, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, and Jeff Goldblum, but it really makes one wonder whether or not they actually bothered to read the script before signing on, for anyone doing so would be able to see the multitude of problems there on the page. Forget everything else, this is one that should never have made it beyond the writing stage. Perhaps the novels do work perfectly fine in their own right, but as a film, at least as far as this effort goes, it merely crashes and burns.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.