Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is an art dealer of questionable stock who dabbles in the shadier side of the business. In financial difficulty with the British Government, due to unpaid taxes, Mortdecai has been reduced to, unsuccessfully mind you, brokering deals with long time rival Fang Fat (Junix Inocian). When not tussling with his Asian rival, though it is his manservant/thug Jock (Paul Bettany) who actually handles the physical stuff, Mortdecai works on perfecting his mustache, a family tradition, much to the chagrin of his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow).
It is only when an MI5 Inspector, Martland (Ewan McGregor), begins investigating the theft of a Goya painting, “The Duchess of Wellington”, that Mortdecai sees a potential opportunity to reverse his fortunes. While the disappearance of the art work and the death of an art restorer may have terrorist implications; Mortdecai only cares about acquiring the painting so he can sell it on the black market himself.
Director David Koepp’s Mortdecai, based on the series of farcical novels Kyril Bonfiglioli, tries to recreate the heist capers from the sixties but misses the mark. Eric Aronson’s simple script does not hit the right comedic notes. Sure there are a few instances of genuinely inspired chuckles, but most of the attempts at hilarity stall or fizzle.
Mortdecai relies heavily on running sight-gags such as Mortdecai’s mustache. Not only is it an item of conversation for each new character whom he encounters, but the facial hair also causes Johanna to gag whenever she is in close proximity. Another frequently traveled path is the irresistible prowess of manservant Jock. Bedding women at every turn, the documentation of Jock‘s conquests becomes tiresome after the third depiction. The only truly inventive aspect of Koepp’s film is the way in which he handles the transitions between scenes, especially during the jet setting sequences across various European cities. Sadly these brief moments are not enough to salvage the film.
The fact that Mortdecai features such a strong cast only makes its missteps even more glaring. Johnny Depp appears to be channeling the likes of Peter Sellers, David Niven, and possibly Mike Myers circa Austin Powers, but does not quite reach their levels. At times it seems as if Depp is enjoying a joke that only he is privy to. Gwyneth Paltrow does well with the little material she is given. Her character is by far the smartest person in the film and the only one with any investigative skills. The latter of which is a trait which one would expect McGregor’s Markland to possess, but he is too busy fawning over Johanna’s beauty to remember his true duties.
Mortdecai falls short of being the international comedic escapade that it strives to be. The vast majority of the jokes are not funny and the film suffers from a thin plot. It is film that I cannot even recommend to die hard Johnny Depp fans.