This definitely not your usual comedic fare, but rather a delicious throwback stylistically to the great screwball and caper comedies of the 70s and 80s. Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) isn’t a nice person. He’s a vain narcissistic pansy totally convinced of his own superiority or in other words, a perfect send-up of the British aristocracy. The story is what you might get if you took a P.G. Wodehouse book, infused it with a lot of somewhat crass but extremely elegantly worded vulgarity and then cast all the major characters with movie stars accustomed to getting top billing. Very much in the same vein as many of Blake Edwards’ movies, most notably the Pink Panther films (at least the Peter Sellers ones, not the recent Steve Martin abomination), Charlie Mortdecai is a bumbling idiot with extraordinarily good luck. Ostensibly, he’s an art dealer but in reality he specializes in swindling gullible patrons and has many a disreputable connection in the seedy underbelly of the art world.
Lady Mortdecai, Johanna to her friends, is played in rather exquisite detail by Gwyneth Paltrow. She wields her not inconsiderable power with grace and aplomb as well as all the ruthlessness of Attila the Hun. Playing the Jeeves to Mortdecai’s Wooster is Jock (Paul Bettany), a thug extraordinaire with a rapacious appetite for the ladies. He conducts his job of all-purpose servant to the most inept employer on the planet with ease and regardless of whatever onerous task he’s given or dire injury sustained, his response is always the same – “It’s a privilege, sir!” When a certain painting is stolen, Inspector Alistair Martland of MI5 (Ewan McGregor) reluctantly enlists Mortdecai’s assistance. The international hunt for the missing artwork eventually leads Mortdecai to Los Angeles, a beastly colonial backwater home to billionaire (and art collector) Milton Krampf (Jeff Goldblum) and his nymphomaniac daughter Georgina (Olivia Munn). And then things really get interesting.
Like any caper worth its salt, there are Russian criminals, terrorists, Oriental mobsters, femme fatales, kidnappings and at least one narrowly averted international incident. It had me howling with laughter and I personally think it is one of Johnny Depp’s better performances. His character is just so blissfully ignorant and genuinely believes himself to be the James Bond of the art world. All that aside, I can see why it didn’t do terribly well with American audiences because despite it being an American production, the tone is very, very British. I personally adore British comedy but I’m sorry to say I am not in the majority amongst my countrymen on the subject. Its subtlety and verbal acrobatics were wasted in the U.S. This American, however, gives it a smashingly good four stars. – BETHANY
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Jock (Paul Bettany) and Mortdecai (Johnny Depp). Martland had this to say about Mortdecai’s appearance: “A man your age has no excuse for looking or behaving like a fugitive from a home for alcoholic music hall artistes.”
Georgina (Olivia Munn) living up to her reputation.
Mortdecai crosses swords with international terrorist Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky).
Mortdecai and Milton Krampf (Jeff Goldblum).
Jock, if not the brains of the operation then definitely the fists. (Paul Bettany)
Mortdecai being forcibly detained by Romanov (Ulrich Thomsen). Say what you like about him, but Mortdecai really can dish out some devastating insults. “Your mother and father only knew each other for a day, and money changed hands!”
Photos courtesy of Mort Productions, Infinitum Nihil, Mad Chance Productions, OddLot Entertainment and Lionsgate (unless otherwise credited in clickable form)