I haven’t read the 1970’s Kyril Bonfiglioli Charlie Mortdecai book series upon which Mortdecai is based, but given the cult status of the novels and the potential (completely wasted) in the film, I suspect that the film does a terrible disservice to the source material. There’s a certain, eccentric Peter Sellers’ quality to Mortdecai, but the difference between Sellers and Johnny Depp is that Sellers created characters. Depp delivers schtick.
The Charlie Mortdecai introduced in the film is another goddamn two-dimensional variation on Jack (fucking) Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that both made Johnny Depp obscenely wealthy and ruined his career as a respectable actor. Depp’s Mortdecai is a cartoon; he’s a mustache with ticks and a British accent so terrible that every third word is incomprehensible. Instead of Sellers, Mordecai is what would happen if someone took Mr. Bean, Steve Martin’s Pink Panther character, Steve Carell’s Maxwell Smart, and Jim Carrey in the Dumb and Dumber movies and put them all in a blender and poured a bucket of Elk piss into it.
There are a few running gags in Mortdecai, but to give you an example of what we’re dealing with, here’s one: Gwyneth Paltrow plays Johanna, the wife of Mortdecai, who is completely turned off by his revolting mustache (she says that it looks like he has a vagina on his face). Whenever she attempts to kiss him, the mustache triggers her gag reflex, and the sound of her dry heaves provokes Mortdecai’s dry heaves, so on at least four occasions during the film, their attempts to make out result in a series of retches.
Fortunately, they do not expel any actual vomit, although at one point in the movie, Paul Bettany — who plays Mortdecai’s manservant, Jock — does end a car-chase by projectile spewing on the front windshield of their pursuers.
Bettany, Paltrow, Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Munn, and even Ewan McGregor are among those who Johnny Depp drags into this embarrassing excuse for a film. Depp’s Mortdecai is a posh British arts dealer who is $8 million in the hole seeking to find one particular painting rumored to have the account number to a Swiss bank account on the back. However, he’s not the only one trying to track down the painting: There’s the Russian mob, a Chinese mob, some Americans, some fellow Brits, and even a British inspector, played by McGregor, who is both trying to retrieve the painting and schtup Mortdecai’s wife.
It’s all a very predictable cat-and-mouse game in pursuit of a MacGuffin, which would be fine if the character work or the comedy was any goddamn good. But it’s not, because Johnny Depp doesn’t know how to do farce. He has the comedic range of a slug caught between two piles of salt.
I will grant Mortdecai this much, however: Paul Bettany is great in it, and I would’ve loved to have seen the interplay between Jock and Mortdecai had the title character been played by someone who didn’t combine a terrible British accent with drunken mumbling. Gwyneth Paltrow — who is more Pepper Potts than GOOP here — is also decent given what little she had to work with. Unfortunately, the entire film is predicated upon the performance of Depp, but since Depp doesn’t know the difference between “acting” and “doing a funny voice,” the entire film collapses into the booze-soaked pile of money that Depp received and will eventually have to split with his trophy wife.