If you enjoyed the Coen-scripted, box-office belly-flop that was Gambit, then the chances are, you’ll love Mortdecai. Both have that British comedy caper feel. Both play like period pieces, although they’re clearly not. And both were quite unfairly savaged by the critics.
Comparing Gambit to Coen Brothers’ films such as Oh Brother or The Big Lebowski, was always going to be unfair. Oh Brother and its ilk are part of Joel and Ethan’s ongoing homage to Americana. The Lady Killers, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Gambit tap into their long-standing love of Ealing Comedies. The problem is that, to get the joke your really have to appreciate the source material. The same is true of Mortdecai.
Based on the novels by the larger-than-life author, actor, art-dealer, and swordsman, Kyril Bonfiglioli, Charlie Mortdecai and his man servant Jock, are basically the anti Jeeves and Wooster. It’s all terribly British, with a dash of Ealing and Carry On humour thrown in for good measure. And that’s exactly what director, David Koep delivers.
Depp, as Mortdecai channels, Terry Thomas complete with gap tooth and foppish gurning. He’s an outrageous, one-dimensional caricature, composed of verbal ticks and facial hair. The stupendous pay cheque that came on the heels of Pirates Of The Caribbean may, arguably, have ruined Depp as a serious actor, but in this instance he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Ewan McGregor is the inept but nice MI5 agent destined to stand in the sidelines while some bounder wins the object of his affections – namely Gwyneth Paltrow’s posh totty, Johanna. However Paul Bettany simply steals the film from under everyone’s moustachioed noses with a laugh out loud turn as Mordecai’s shag-tastic thuggish ‘butler’, Jock Strap. There you go. It’s pure Carry On.
There is, of course, a plot of kinds involving Mortdecai’s attempts to retrieve a stolen Goya, but all this is secondary to the silliness at hand. If you put your brain in neutral and don’t expect too much, Mortdecai is a watchable, quotable romp.