Odd ‘n’ Mod

Johnny Depp’s time-warped, Brit-flavored box office bomb

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Mortdecai

Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow & Ewan McGregor

Directed by David Koepp

R

Well, at least Johnny Depp’s latest movie has something in common with The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful Life: All three of those films, like his new flop, were initially box-office bombs.

Those flicks much later found respect and beloved places in cinematic history. Perhaps some new appreciation may also be heaped, decades down the road, on Mortdecai. But so far Depp’s dud has been savaged by most critics and has only attracted a trickle of audience turnout. Not many people have wanted to see him, apparently, in yet another nutty role, with a fake accent and goofball mannerisms—and particularly not in this movie, which is a bit of an oddity itself.

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Paul Bettany plays the loyal manservant of kooky art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp).

Based on a series of musty 1970s British comedic cloak-and-dagger novels, Mortdecai stars Depp as the eccentric art wheeler-dealer of the title, Gwyneth Paltrow as his wife, and Ewan McGregor as a MI5 agent on the trail of a missing art masterpiece that may contain a long-hidden code leading to squirreled-away Nazi gold. Eventually everybody gets in on the action, including Mortdecai’s loyal manservant (Paul Bettany), a competing American art collector (Jeff Goldblum), his nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn), and some nasty Russian thugs.

The whole story seems kookily out of time, a far-out, swingin’-’70s romp plunked down clumsily in the present. Or is it a mod, mapcap comedy run backward through the gears of a time-machine blender? Or a weird parcel from a distant era yet to come, when Depp’s off-kilter-characters are worshipped as idols by a future civilization?

The humor, the jokes, the mannerisms, everything about it is so pseudo-sophisticated British, so Pink Panther-meets-Austin Powers-meets-Mr. Bean, so camp-ily, willfully, woozily derivative of practically every English sleuth saga and spoofy bungle caper that’s ever been done, it begs the question: Why did anyone bother to make this curious, out-of-time artifact of a movie at all, and why now?

Depp, who has fashioned quite a career out of quirk, adds yet another peculiar personality to his collection. Charlie Mortdecai, a wacky conglomeration of grunts, bleats, facial tics and a moustache that becomes one of the movie’s subplots by itself, is a hoot, but dimensionally hollow, and highly unlikely to join Capt. Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood or Willy Wonka in his hall of fame.

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Ewan McGregor

It’s all a tad randy, but only a tad, just barely enough for its R rating. That means anyone expecting a “raunchy” grown-up comedy, like a lot of R-rated comedies these days, will likely be disappointed at its relative tameness—and that any of Depp’s younger fans, from his Pirates of the Caribbean Disney movies, won’t be able to see it at all.

There are some funny bits, like a rather novel car chase, some clever dialogue and banter, and what seems like a total commitment from the cast, who appear to be having a cheerio, cheeky old time. But the plot is a bit of a runaround slog, and some of the gags require a good deal of stick-with-it—one involves whether a character will take a bite from a slab of stinky old cheese, or not.

Mortdecai may not be Johnny Depp’s finest moment, or even one of them. It’s not looking like it right now, anyway. But hey, let’s give this slab of stinky cheese another 30 or 40 years and see what happens, shall we?

 —Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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