Angus Saul

Review: Repetitive jokes and a bearable performance by Johnny Depp in Mortdecai

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In the last 10 years, Johnny Depp has been in a lot of films, and in doing so has raked in a lot of money.  Has he always been good in those films? Mostly. Have those films been critically acclaimed? Mostly not.

So when Depp is cast as a bumbling English aristocrat, and notorious art fraud to boot, who is sent on a mission to find a stolen painting in the new fast-paced, comic crime caper Mortdecai, it is all too easy to fear the worst.

But Depp’s latest turn looked promising. Mortdecai, directed by David Koepp (screenwriter for Jurassic Park), and also stars Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany, certainly won’t appeal to all, but it’s a fun and entertaining absurdist comedy nonetheless, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing along the way.

When a rare piece of art has been stolen, Inspector Alistair Martland (McGregor), is forced to call in a favour from the flat broke aristocrat and art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Depp), to track down the missing goya painting. Mortdecai and wife Johanna plan to steal it from under the noses of the British constabulary and use it to pay off their crushing debt (rather than sell one of the many rather lovely paintings they already own).

Sounds good? Wrong.

While some of the jokes (and there are a lot) are amusing, there are too many joke repetitions. Mortdecai’s moustache, of which he is very fond, makes his wife gag, which in turn makes him gag. This joke is repeated many, many times over the course of the bearable 107 minutes.

Mortdecai’s manservant, Jock (Bettany) is a right cockney geezer who sleeps with every woman he fancies, and also seems impervious to pain. Comedy gold right there.

There a few other running jokes, but you get the idea.

The performances themselves are actually stellar, and that’s to be expected from such a strong cast. Just about everyone is putting on an accent too, and most of them are convincing. (I said most, Bettany. Brush up on your cockney).

So, was Mortdecai a bad film? Well, that all depends on what you think of the title character. It is upon Charlie Mortdecai that the fate of the film rests.

I briefly considered that Rowan Atkinson might have been better suited to the role, but that might have strayed a little too close to Johnny English territory. In any event, Depp’s over-the-top, puerile performance as the debonair art dealer will have some in fits of giggles, and others grinding their teeth in annoyance. The character is irritating, though in Depp’s defence, I’m not sure the film would have worked had Mortdecai been less than insufferable.

And insufferable he was.


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