Depp Face-Plants With Miserable "Mortdecai"

Duplicitous British art collector Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) has a silly mustache. That’s “Mortdecai” in a nutshell, a one-joke outline of a comedy without a single comedian in sight. Charlie loves his mustache, his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) loathes it, and they fight about it incessantly. Two parts Peter Sellers, one part Mike Myers, all parts breathlessly unfunny, “Mortdecai” is a bewildering attempt at British humour from two Americans (Depp and director David Koepp) with zero aptitude for it.

Given the right material Johnny Depp can do comedy, but he’s very much not a comedian. His nonstop mugging for the camera in “Mortdecai” is exhibit A of those comedic shortcomings. Every other false note he hits, from pained vocal inflections to barely-there comic timing? Enough exhibits to merit a museum.

Director David Koepp (veteran blockbuster screenwriter and occasional helmer) has shown even less of an inclination for comedy (read: none) making his reunion with Depp here, of all places, all the more confounding. The two paired for the modestly entertaining Stephen King adaptation “Secret Window” in 2004. What was it about “Mortdecai” that cried out for a reunion? The chance to make Steve Martin’s two labored attempts at “The Pink Panther” look like genre classics?

The film’s void of comedic talent cruelly amplifies Eric Aronson’s charmless screenplay. The title character is an obscenely wealthy, unrelatable buffoon, the secret agent (Ewan McGregor) who’s hot for Johanna is just sort of there, and Charlie’s servant (Paul Bettany) is a gruff sex fiend. These are less characters than results of a brief brainstorming session, plopped down onto the page, left to fester in an uninteresting stew of half-assed art world intrigue.

As laugh-free as the film is, it’s at its most inept when it doesn’t even try for chuckles, all in the name of straight-faced exposition. As if the jokes are so good that we need a break to catch our breaths. As if some strained subplot about Nazi gold belongs in a farce about a clown in a smoking jacket. As if “Mortdecai” has any reason to exist at all.

Olivia Munn (HBO’s “The Newsroom”) shows up briefly as a nymphomaniac – she is, like most everyone else, terrible – while Jeff Goldblum reunites with his “Jurassic Park” scribe to give us two minutes of relief from Depp before being unceremoniously killed off. As a father-daughter combo, the two characters sum up everything wrong with the movie. They’re filler, but with nothing to fill.

The film is not without a few amusing takeaways. Firstly, Ewan McGregor doesn’t seem to be aging, apparently frozen in time along with his once burgeoning career. Secondly, Johnny Depp’s long-heralded chameleonic talents are gone. Here he’s been reduced to former superstar in a fake mustache, begging audiences to laugh at him, since laughing with him has long been out of the question. And finally, the movie is a worthy warning to Hollywood at large: if you’re going to make a comedy, hire some damn comedians.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: January 23, 2015
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: David Koepp
Screenwriter: Eric Aronson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Munn
MPAA Rating: R (for some language and sexual material)