By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Johnny Depp is Charles Mortdecai, or rather, Captain Jack Sparrow … or should that be Barnabas Collins? There’s a debonair quality in Depp’s performance that’s familiar even though there’s nuances to make this new persona ever so slightly different. When his life is in danger, this boy is simply a coward. Just how he manages to remain an unscrupulous arts dealer really needs to be asked.
In a movie based on the works of English author Kyril Bonfiglioli’s trilogy of the same name, starting with, “Don’t Point That Thing At Me,” perhaps better explanation can be found within the book than in the film. When an arts restorer is killed working on a Francisco Goya painting thought to be lost, he’s called to the scene by agent Martland (Ewan McGregor) to track down where the canvas went. But when Martland has a past with Mortdecai’s wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), the issue of infidelity gets put into just one layer of this film’s rather confusing direction.
Is this movie an action comedy or drama? The mixture does not quite work when the tale moves between set pieces of action, exposition and trouble. At the Mortdecai Manor, Johanna doesn’t like Charles’ curly moustache, and the running gag does wear itself out mid-way through the film. As this waxing arts connoisseur tries to find where the painting went, his misadventures sends him from Britain to America where he finds “The Colonies” culture perplexing.
His perchance of bumbling into trouble gets worse, and ultimately, the story has to make him a hero to save the day. The only shame is that his man-servant and bodyguard, Jock (Paul Bettany), is not the real saviour of the movie. Bettany steals the scene in his straight-forward steadfast portrayal of a faithful butler who can easily put Batman’s Alfred Pennyworth to shame. He would sacrifice a body part for his boss! Bettany relishes in being quite literally the jock. He’s a winner with many women and when compared to Charles, he’s even the braver of the two.
Although he is not enough to save the film, the supporting characters at least offer some better humour and sex appeal. Jeff Goldblum plays a rich billionaire, Krampf, who buys a limo from the Mortdecai’s in order to help this family get out of debt. His daughter Georgina (Olivia Munn) is a nymphomaniac who has more than just simple dirty secrets in store when she learns daddy has plans to acquire the Goya painting for himself. Sadly, these performers roles and purpose are sorely underutilized.
During the dead of winter, the box office may slump even further with no real head-turners for this early 2015 season. Mortdecai can amuse, but unless audiences are die-hard Johnny Depp fans, even this one can be missed in favour for February contenders like Jupiter Ascending or Seventh Son. Both are designed to appeal to a younger and wider audience. This film is made for an older demographic in mind, and for the Gen X’ers in the audience, they may want to debate for themselves if Mortdecai can contend with the likes of Austin Powers or Inspector Clouseau. There’s no cursed gem to find this time. Even if some facets are cracked, at least there’s always polish in Paltrow’s performance to make this film shine.
3 Stars out of 5