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Depp takes a dip in Mortdecai

by Mark Burger

Mortdecai appears to be an attempt to fashion an Austin Powers-type franchise around Johnny Depp, who plays the title role of crafty, cowardly art dealer and upper-class British twit Charlie Mortdecai. If so, however, the attempt is a resoundingly unsuccessful one.

The Charlie Mortdecai character was introduced in Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel Don’t Point That Thing at Me, but the character seems as inspired by Terry-Thomas, the gap-toothed, mustachioed British actor who specialized in playing schemers and cads.

Depp’s got the mustache, the gap in his front teeth, and his on-screen behavior is certainly caddish. But Mortdecai lacks spirit. It’s leaden when it should be light-hearted; its double-entendres and puns neither inspired nor are they nimble enough to elicit more than a few wheezy chuckles.

The plot, which is thin (and getting thinner all the time), involves the search for a priceless Goya painting coveted by international terrorists and, therefore, coveted by the British government. That’s where Mortdecai comes in. Needless to say, he stumbles and bumbles his way through the assignment.

Gwyneth Paltrow, looking great by the way, trots out her British accent to play Mortdecai’s long-suffering spouse Johanna, Paul Bettany plays Mortdecai’s long-suffering but stalwart manservant Jock, and Ewan McGregor is relegated to playing straight man to everybody as a spy with ties to Charlie and Johanna. Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Munn, Michael Culkin, Ulrich Thomsen and Nicholas Farrell are among the other familiar folk who drift in and out of the flimsy proceedings, and add very little along the way.

As a screenwriter, David Koepp has penned some comedies (Death Becomes Her, The Paper, Zathura) but with the exception of 2008’s unmemorable Ghost Town, his previous turns as director (The Trigger Effect, Stir of Echoes, Premium Rush) have not been rooted in comedy. Mortdecai hints strongly that funny business should be left to others. !

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