Johnny Depp’s mustache is referenced about a dozen times during David Koepp’s globetrotting romp Mortdecai. At times, it seems like the whole movie is based around making jokes about his well-kept mustache. This helps explain why the vanity project is so frenziedly boring and tedious. Based on the first of a 1970s trilogy of lighthearted novels by British author Kyril Bonfiglioli, Mortdecai is manically unfunny.
A big problem is that the character of Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) isn’t likeable or very funny. He dresses like an asshole, so I guess casting Depp was inevitable. Depp does a masterful job transforming into the bumbling aristocrat, but he’s not the type of character you want to hang around with for 90 minutes. He’s a connoisseur of fine art and fine living, which has led him to falling 8 million pounds in debt. His solution is to locate and sell a presumed lost Goya painting, “The Duchess of Wellington.” As legend has it, hidden on the back of a painting is a code for a Swiss bank account loaded with Nazi loot.
Joining him on his adventure are his grizzled manservant Jock (Paul Bettany), his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow with scarcely tolerable British accent), and MI5 agent Martland (Ewan McGregor). Also in the mix are Jeff Goldblum as an art collector and Olivia Munn as his nymphomaniac daughter. Munn is treated as nothing more than a piece of meat whenever she’s on screen, which quickly gets uncomfortable to watch. Most of the film is uncomfortable, in fact.
While the supporting cast does their best to keep up, Depp unloads with an arsenal of facial tics. When he’s not rambling, weird noises gurgle out of his mouth like he drank dish soap. He spends most scenes frantically mugging for the camera and milking lowbrow jokes out of every situation. And fondling his goddamn mustache. I think we’re meant to laugh every time he touches the thing, like it’s inherently funny. Like Joe Dirt’s mullet.
Mortdecai earns its R-rating with a slew of sexual innuendoes and F-bombs here and there, but it never feels like a crude adult comedy. It never feels like something a younger person would enjoy, either. It exists in some parallel world where age means nothing and Johnny Depp is a god. I don’t want to live there.
At one point in the film, Johanna (who we’re constantly reminded is “damn attractive”) asks her husband, “Must you be so tiresome?” A very good question. Mortdecai is a wearisome film about a charmless character who becomes grating within his first five minutes of screen time. A globetrotting caper filled with deceit and cartoonish violence sounds fun, but with this huge misfire, it’s simply a deafening bore.