As you might have guessed from the daft and something-short-of-hilarious TV ads, “Mortdecai” is an extended inside Anglo joke that most of us aren’t in on.
But for a certain sort of Anglophile, one who recognizes the attempted homage to ’60s comedies, the late comics Terry-Thomas and Dudley Moore and other inspirations for Mike Myers’ “Austin Powers” pictures, it’s something less than awful.
I mean, if watching Johnny Depp mince and curl his “Kaiser Bill” mustache and quip in his most foppish upper-class twit Brit accent for 100 minutes is your cup of Earl Grey, have at it.
Charlie Mortdecai is an English lord, an inbred art dealer, tax dodger and, by his own admission, “a rogue, a scoundrel.” But when the Crown calls on him to find a missing Goya painting that was stolen when an art restorer was murdered, duty calls. That, and he owes $8 million in taxes and his bullying beauty of a wife (Gwyneth Paltrow, on the money) might leave him if they’re broke.
Ewan McGregor plays a former Oxford classmate, now an MI-5 agent who wants this painting back and who pines for Mortdecai’s wife. Paul Bettany is Jock, the Kato to Depp’s Clouseau-like klutz. Jock takes punches and bullets for his boss, who always asks his driver, “manservant and thug” one thing mid-calamity: “Will it be all right in the end?”
Jock refuses a straight answer. With reason, it turns out.
The movie rather pointlessly jets from London to Moscow, Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Others want the painting, a colorless lot of Russians, Chinese and an American. Jeff Goldblum has too little to play to give the film a decent comic foil and a much-needed arch villain.
What director David “Premium Rush” Koepp was shooting for was something on the order of those Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” movies, unlikely over-the-top adventures endured by a reluctant anti-hero goofball. What he settled for is Depp twitching and mugging, in close-up, enduring an endless parade of mustache jokes.
“What IS that infernal thing on your lip?” is the cleanest.
Depp’s English accent makes an amusing setting for his scripted one-liners. The government has a hefty file on him, “fat and well-handled, like a Welsh barmaid.” His euphemisms for luring his wife to bed are a stitch, a “quick session of congress, ‘Sink the Bismarck,’ if you will.”
The story is nonsensical and the action tepid. So if you don’t find the Brit-quips funny, there’s not much for you in “Mortdecai,” just vintage British motorcars, foppish gibberish and Depp curling and re-curling that mustache, punctuating every line with “Right!” or “Quite!” That makes for a quite watchable mess.
“MORTDECAI,” starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Goldblum. Directed by David Koepp. Script by Eric Aronson, based on a Kyril Bonfiglioli novel. A Lionsgate release. Rated R for some language and sexual material. Running time: 1:46