Mortdecai (2015)

*. It’s easy as a reviewer to criticize a film’s script. This is because (1) they usually aren’t very good; (2) while not everyone can light or edit or direct a movie, everyone knows how to write; and (3) by the time they actually get around to shooting a movie the script has often been so worked over and cut apart and reassembled that it’s hard to point a finger at who’s to blame anyway.
*. Well, the script for Mortdecai is crap. Which is only a little surprising because it’s based on a literary source, specfically the first book in a popular trilogy by Kyril Bonfiglioli featuring the art dealer-detective Lord Charlie Mortdecai. I haven’t read any of the Mortdecai novels so I can’t judge, but I figure they must be better than this. Did Bonfiglioli get that much mileage out of barf and erection gags? I suppose he might have. Mortdecai’s manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) has no last name in the movie but in the books it’s Strapp. As in Jock Strapp. At least that’s something we were spared.
*. But I don’t want to rag on the script here. It’s neither funny nor interesting as a mystery thriller. Basically it’s just a bunch of nitwit cops and robbers chasing each other around and getting in fights while they try to find a Goya masterpiece with a code to a vault of Nazi loot written on the back. If Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) can find it he can keep the creditors from repossessing his manor house and maybe save his marriage to Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) at the same time.

*. Instead of the script, I thought I’d talk about what’s happened to acting. There are styles of acting that come and go. Acting in a silent film was very different from what it turned into after sound came. In some old films it was considered great acting to react very slowly to anything that was going on, to a point where it seems hilarious by modern standards. The nature of the art evolves. So, what can we say about today’s dominant acting style?
*. One thing we might say is that it mirrors today’s dominant genre: the comic-book film. So a truly memorable performance is rarely understated or restrained, but caricaturish and overdone. Some actors have this down to a point where there’s hardly anything left to do but self-parody. Think Samuel L. Jackson or Nicolas Cage or Jeff Goldblum (who shows up briefly in Mortdecai as an American billionaire). Or think of Johnny Depp, at one time considered one of the best actors of his generation. Then there was his eccentric turn as Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the giga-success of Pirates of the Caribbean and his swish Captain Jack Sparrow. Critics couldn’t get enough of his Captain Jack, and he was very good . . . in what was a comic-book movie.
*. I was thinking of this again watching Depp playing Mortedecai. He’s not even a character anymore, but just a string of weird mannerisms, a funny accent, and a comic-book moustache. A posh twit attended to by his dog-like manservant Jock, we may think of him as a latter-day Bertie Wooster, but he’s far zanier and more extreme a creation than anything Hugh Laurie would have played. Laurie seems utterly naturalistic in comparison.
*. You could just call Depp’s performance an eccentric star turn, but I think it’s more representative of where we’re at than that. I think this is what today’s most prominent style of filmmaking demands of its stars. Naturalism has disappeared as completely as nature itself in the age of CGI.
*. That’s a digression, but I think an interesting one. And since I have nothing much to say about Mortdecai it will have to stand in lieu of a review. The movie flopped, so if there were any thoughts of making it into a franchise they were soon forgotten. Almost as swiftly as this movie has been erased from what’s left of my mind.

18 thoughts on “Mortdecai (2015)


        So given that this kind of broad comedy is right up your street, why didn’t it tickle your fancy? Does your library not have Bullseye!? Too much exposure to erotic plasticine figures?

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Too much eye rolling from Depp. Not enough nut kicking. Don’t think the library has Bullseye! That film may only be available for viewing now in Scotland.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Don’t blame you for taking a pass on this one. Quick question: Is sticky toffee pudding a year-round treat in the UK or do you only eat it over the Christmas holidays?

  1. Bookstooge

    I liked Depp in the Pirate movies until I realized HE was the main character. Didn’t care for that.

    I’m trying to think what else I might have seen him in. I think there was some occult movie that was free on Prime that I tried and got about halfway through. Something about symbols drawn differently in books so you could summon the devil or something? I gave up about halfway through, it was very boring. I guess I just don’t watch the kind of films he usually stars in.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Hm. I don’t know what that movie was. I haven’t seen everything he’s been in by a long shot. He does a lot of very different things though.

  2. Bruce @ walkingoffthechessboard

    This movie holds a “special place” in Mrs. Chess and I’s relationship. I convinced her to see it at the theatre because, well…how could it miss with that cast? When the movie was over, she turned to face me and her face left no doubt how she felt about losing two hours of her life she’d never get back. It is referred to now as “The Mortdecai Face,” and when we’re totally unhappy with each other we make it. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. One thing that will never happen is either of us watching this again.😀

    1. Alex Good Post author

      And I don’t think anyone will have be bothered by any sequels either. Think this was a wrap for the Mortdecai franchise. They really muffed it. I haven’t read the books so I’m not sure there was anything there to make something out of in the first place, but they didn’t do much of a job with what they had.

  3. Wakizashi33

    Great point about a lot of modern acting, especially in big budget films these days. I hadn’t thought about the “comic-book film” effect, but I can see it. Exagerrated performances do seem to be a lot more common. I’m trying to think of a recent movie that has stuck with me because of someone’s performance, but I can’t name one.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, every “state of the art” evolves to get and keep an audience, so this becomes the style of acting, especially if it meshes with a certain kind of (uber-popular) filmmaking. I just wonder sometimes what actors think of turning themselves into this kind of performer. What starts out as a lark can become a pigeonhole.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I think you’re likely to be disappointed. But you never know! With comedy so much depends on what sort of a mood you’re in. I couldn’t stop laughing at The Brothers Grimsby. I was rolling on the floor crying.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.