Saturday, January 31, 2015


What really annoys me about this piss-poor attempt at a caper film is that Johnny Depp's vanity project is likely to put people off reading the marvellous source novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli.  And this is a shame because those novels combine the wit of P.G. Wodehouse, the political incorrectness of George Macdonald Fraser and a surprising familiarity with the intricate workings of crime.  Taken together they create a marvellous world of 1970s intrigue in which our hero, wily art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, outwits various intelligence agencies and evil-doers, with his loyal sidekick and thug, Jock.  To be sure, the books vary in style - the first two are basically thrillers - the third is a detective story and the last is a prequel more akin to a high seas adventure.  All of them contain a rich vein of comedy running through them but they aren't just or even mostly comedies.  And Charlie himself, while a very witty man, is not chiefly a comedic character. He's middle aged, overweight, often wrong, but very very cunning and can always be relied upon to outwit his enemies.  He is also not remotely camp.

And yet, in this woeful excuse for a film, Charlie Mortdecai becomes just another Johnny Depp weirdo - as camp as a row of buttons - sporting an absurd British accent and a moustache hardly worthy of the name.  Worse still, the movie plays as pastiche, rather than straight, which is always the death of comedy.  I feel that the director, David Koepp (writer of the similarly woeful last INDIANA JONES film) and screenwriter Eric Aronson didn't really know how to tackle the novels. So instead of just adapting the first, which would have been coherent in tone and style - being a James Bond style thriller - they use elements of all three. The result is an incoherent mess - is it a detective story or a caper?  Moreover, they do not seem to know when they want to set the movie.  It looks like the present day, although clearly Charlie could not be a plausible undercover agent in such a world, and yet Mark Ronson has provided a campy 1970s score. 

The result is so bad it's embarrassing. To be sure, Johnny Depp is the worst offender, but Gwyneth Paltrow - utterly miscast as Johanna Krampf - is utterly irritating. Paul Bethany plays Jock as a thug but without that softer side and without his very deadpan humour.

Avoid at all costs, but please do try the books.

MORTDECAI is rated R and has a running time of 107 minutes.  The film is on global release. 

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