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Mortdecai Review: Hilarious Alternative to the January Bores

The slick caper comedy Mortdecai is the perfect solution to the onslaught of January bores.
Review by Matt Cummings

In Mortdecai, Johnny Depp plays the titular 'hero' Charlie, a sheltered and privileged art dealer/collector who's forced to join an MI-5 investigation to find a priceless painting and the Nazi account numbers on its back. Charlie would rather sip a fine Sherry than lift a finger, but that's not what is infuriating his wife Johanna (Gweneth Paltrow) it's the new curly mustache he's been cultivating. Soon, both of them are off on an art-heist adventure, courtesy of their friend from MI-5 Martland (Ewan McGregor) who holds unrequited love for Johanna. With the Russians and an international terrorist at his heels, Charlie and his man-servant Jock (Paul Bettany) must root out the painting's location using Chalrie's unique style and rather questionable talents.

Critics are killing this one because they think Depp and company have made a catastrophic flop - what do they know? Mortdecai knows what it is and excels at it, as sure of itself as its titular character, but far more capable than Charlie himself. There's wonderful little interludes between Depp and Paltrow, who paints an elegant English country nature but whose sharp mind is constantly saving her husband from certain death. She and Depp have great moments as Johanna tries to get used to his facial hair, and Mortdecai tries not to throw up. Betany the bruiser is also great, the love maker and brawler offering a nice contrast to the elegant daisy behind his boss, while McGregor plays the straight-man MI-5 type with enough conviction that I don't hate him. In fact, I was imagining him in far funnier escapades than he's given, but it's all passable.

But this is Depp's show, and to his credit he actually shines. This is the first time in several films that I can say this: Johnny Depp is great. Say what you want about the dozen or so characters he's played since his iconic Jack Sparrow, but at least credit him in most with actually inhabiting his roles over merely portraying (sorry, there's no excuse for Transcendence). He plays Mortdecai with perfect English dandy elegance, a man who runs like no one taught him to do so, whose mother probably didn't allow him such freedoms, and whose taste for for fine wine and food is outmatched only by his ego. He's a man from a different time, whose English sensibilities still shun the United States as 'colonies' and who hasn't driven a car in years because his 'man servant' has done so.

Even the fun Bond-esque soundtrack by Mick Ronson is totally flirtatious, its 60'/70's cheesy fun setting a tone for the film from the outset. But more importantly, the script by Writer Eric Aronson doesn't go for the low-brow humor of The Wedding Ringer to sell itself. Sure, there's plenty of adult humor (boners, breast groping, etc) but it's all in good fun and none of it ever overtakes the actors or story. That's a welcomed relief for a time when crowds will only laugh when genitals are exposed or an old lady is found in bed with Adam Sandler. Mortdecai doesn't need to go there, relying on its story to place our actors in funny situations, rather than concocting some skit that acts as more of a plot device than a moment to genuinely laugh.

But let's not start raising this one to the columns of Mt. Olympus: the characters are somewhat one-note and the story can be seen a mile away; but that's not why Director David Koepp wants you here. Instead, it's more about the journey of Charlie and his incredibly sheltered life than a plot twist or violent ending. He's here to make us laugh, and laugh we do. I do find the MPAA's rating of R to be a bit surprising: this isn't the frankly disgusting The Wedding Ringer, which also earned an R, nor the tension-filled thriller Blackhat. I hope this won't keep audiences from giving it a try.

For those of you who've grown tired of the all the dark, negative films of the past several weeks, Mortdecai offers a pleasant alternative. Its clean good-natured humor makes it an obvious choice in month where most films go to die. Don't listen to the overly-stodgy critics about this one: it's a great comedy caper that - dare I say - deserves its own franchise. I'd pay to see Charlie Mortdecai run around some more.

Mortdecai is rated a very surprising R for some language and sexual material and has a runtime of 106 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Thomas Watson said…
It is really a shame it has not done better, as I for one would have like to have seen more adventures of Charlie Mortdecai and this cast of characters.

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