The 2015 Johnny Depp movie Mortdecai is a wild, madcap character comedy powered by the presence of a leading man who loses himself with gleeful abandon in the absurd and wacky title role. Depp and Mortdecai is right up there with Mike Myers and Austin Powers, or Will Ferrell in Anchorman, which are unassailable classics.
I’m serious. Hear me out.
I realize the reputation that Mortdecai, well, I don’t want to say enjoys. It’s often included in lists of things like “biggest bombs in Hollywood history” and “movies big stars regret doing” and “the worst movie since Gigli.” This simply isn’t fair. When these bad movies come out, they arrive in theaters with a ton of baggage that’s been piled on so audiences are ready to hate it. It’s almost a form of guerrilla marketing to spread the word that From Justin to Kelly or The Adventures of Pluto Nash is going to be bad. Which they were. Mortdecai is far more quotable, and ridiculous on purpose, than any of those other legendarily “bad movies.”
Savaged for being another entry into the admittedly increasingly tiresome sub-genre of Zany Johnny Depp in a Weird Outfit Movies, Mortdecai is not quite that. The thing is that it’s very different from the kinds of comedies that are popular now, and it’s a throwback to a style that was only briefly popular several decades ago, and pretty much only in England. Mortdecai feels like a late period Peter Sellers movie, all set pieces and sketches and making fun of a crusty character who has no idea that he’s an idiot. The relationship between Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) and his manservant, Jock (Paul Bettany), adds in a welcome and extremely British Jeeves and Wooster dynamic. In other words, this movie would have been a big hit if it had been made in England in about 1972.
The plot is kind of complicated—too complicated for a modern-day comedy, but right in line with that of an old, European-style farce. Charlie Mortdecai is an art dealer facing bankruptcy, and the plot involves an international art heist, forged paintings, kidnappings, murders, and wealthy Americans, the British government, and Russian mobsters, all surrounding a lost masterpiece by Spanish master Francisco Goya. But none of that really matters. Mortdecai is a vehicle to present Depp-as-Charlie Mortdecai into a series of fish-out-of-water situations that either hilariously, almost nihilistically, take him down a peg, or allow him to use his cutting British wit to take others down a peg. Among the standout sketch-scenes:
Amongst the intrigue-laden plot and silly comic sequences, Mortdecai has quite a lot of action sequences. Because it’s a farce, several people are callously murdered, and there are car chase scenes and daring escapes, and Mortdecai manages to get Jock brutally injured several times.
Now, does Gigli have any of that?
Brian Boone edits the Splitsider Humor Section.