Mortdecai is released on DVD and Blu-Ray today. Ricky Young has watched it, so you sure as fuck don’t have to.
It is the late 1990’s. Put yourself in Johnny Depp’s shoes.
Go on. Some stinky vintage Converse, maybe, or some leathery, flappy things that he plucked out of a bin somewhere in the Marais.
Now let’s take this further – put yourself in his trousers, too. This requires fortitude, I realise – Mr. Depp gives the impression of being a kindred spirit to the dude who sits next to you on the bus, smelling as if he spends his downtime slowly marinating in his own piss. But there’s a point to all this, so pull those bad boys on. There you go.
Tight, aren’t they? But what’s that in the back pocket? Is it a greasy, dog-eared copy of one of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s obscure 1970s comic novels detailing the adventures of dodgy art-dealer-cum-criminal the Hon. Charlie Mortdecai? Perhaps slipped to you by one of the many famous friends your millennial Anglophilia has cultivated, friends such as Paul Whitehouse or Charlie Higson, say, themselves exactly the sort of person to know about and celebrate such literary flibbertigibbets?
And did you enjoy these books so much that after two subsequent decades of increasingly soulless but reliably profitable fancy-dress on the big screen, you felt that bringing your hero Charlie Mortdecai to the wider masses was finally something you could actually make other people do without being told to your face that you weren’t allowed?
Well done, you.
Alright, you can stop being 90’s Johnny Depp now. It’s not a look you could really carry off anyway.
Also, have a bath. Right now.
‘Don’t Point That Thing At Me’, ‘After You With The Pistol’ and ‘Something Nasty In The Woodshed’ – the three Mortdecai novels completed before Kyril Bonfiglioli keeled over thanks to a fucked liver in 1985 – defy proper description, although that hasn’t stopped people in the past and it isn’t going to stop me now. Often referred to as something ‘Wodehouse on acid!’-based, the wafer-thin plots recount a number of eccentric adventures involving a dissolute minor nob and his thuggish household retainer, usually based around aspects of corruption in the art world, global spy naughtiness and fairly outré sexual practices.
It would take a reliable generosity of spirit to describe them as ‘good’, although there’s little point denying they contain a certain something to have kept them in people’s minds – if not in print – all these years. By turns fey, funny, flinty, painful, grubby, nasty and almost entirely without point, they remain ‘of their time’ in the way only sexist and racist things from the 1970s can. And as an obscure and sordid bit of British literary whimsy, they were perhaps the perfect thing to become the pet project of Hollywood’s favourite slightly-strange, slightly-thick child-man.
Which, if you’re a fan of unlikeable movie stars bringing pointless obsessions that nobody else wanted to the screen in a tone-deaf manner that gets the whole exercise totally arse-over-tit in a screamingly unentertaining way, then, my friends, you’re in luck. Mortdecai as a film simply flops out of the projector and lies there on the cinema floor, screaming at you to kill it right now.
Believe me, it would be a mercy.
Of course, my theory as to Mortdecai’s provenance might be way off the mark. There’s a reason why other people get to go to Hollywood and actually make films and I just get to be a sneering cunt about them on the internet, after all, and it’s got nothing to do with me being on any sort of FBI register – I want to make that perfectly clear.
But give me Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Jeff Goldblum and Ewan McGregor and sixty million bucks and I’d bet you fifty-nine million bucks that I could turn out something that held together more coherently than Mortdecai, even if it consisted of ninety minutes of iPhone footage of the five of them arguing over which are the best side-dishes in the Marks & Spencer’s Dine-In deal.
(Hint – it’s not the cabbage.)
There’s little point in comparing this movie to its source material. Nothing except the most basic character strokes, a bit of plotting and some snatches of dialogue remain. Depp’s performance transforms the titular character from the tubby, snobbish, self-aware rogue of the books into a strangulated, cowardly preener, vocally lurching from Mr. Cholmondley-Warner to Terry-Thomas and all points between. So clotted-cream thick is this haughty brogue (no doubt guided by co-star, er, Paul Whitehouse) that entire jokes, be they between characters or via tacked-on voice-over, go careening off into the ether.
And what jokes they are. Unable to set a coherent tone from the very first scene, Mortdecai can’t decide whether it’s a comedy of manners, a straight-up knockabout, a sex comedy, a quip machine or a runaround farce. This would be a problem even if it didn’t know what other sort of film it wanted to be – an action thriller, too, but what type? Cartoony? – people get punched and fall over in ‘hilarious’ ways. Or serious? – people get killed, and plenty of them. Throw in some plot-twists and double-crosses that go nowhere, cheap-looking sets, scenes linked together by mood-jarringly frantic CGI interludes, minor characters who come and go as if they were only turning up for the day-rate, and what we have is a real-time disaster that was only made presentable for human eyes by a gimlet-eyed editor with a blind belief in the inherent comedy value to be found in moustaches.
Are moustaches funny? Do you think moustaches are funny? I’m happy to be fairly neutral on the subject – it probably depends on the individual moustache. But by all the ding-dong FUCK does Mortdecai think moustaches are funny. Every eight minutes or so, Mortdecai stops what it’s doing and has whomever is in the room at the time stand around and talk about Charlie’s moustache, as if returning to a well of utter hilarity that only it can see or hear. Far be it from this humble reviewer to accuse a troubled production of doubling down on the Buzzfeedy habit of picking a thing and then saying that thing over and over until it’s a Thing. But that’s totally what Mortdecai does, because it just doesn’t have any other ideas.
This ah-fuck-it-MOUSTACHES! attitude even spilled over into one of the most mystifying marketing drives of recent times, gambling on two crazily-arrogant assumptions – that a) waiting for someone to finally make a Mortdecai movie was something that you didn’t even know you wanted but really, really did; and b) that you thought moustaches were fuckbones-hilarious – thus ensuring that even the thought of the film was charmless and alienating.
But that cast, though.
Depp had to be in it – he’s the producer after all – but make no mistake, he brings that precise mix of over-the-top effort and lazy-ass WTF that you’ve come to know and despise. The others? Pfft. Paltrow’s comedy chops have been replaced by comedy quinoa, McGregor reprises the verve and charisma of his career highlight Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a violently ill-served Olivia Munn runs the entire gamut from T all the way up to A. Only Paul Bettany appears to know he’s been caught up in a clusterfuck of epic proportions, and his brutish deadpan is the only bright spot amongst all the overheated, undercooked shouting.
Mortdecai is a colossal failure on every level, and is set to ruin 2019 by gumming up every Worst Of The Decade list out there.
The best anyone has ever had to say about it that it jumps around on your screen with the haphazard bonhomie of The Pink Panther or the Niven Casino Royale, but there are two problems with that – firstly, those examples of the sixties caper genre were indeed hot messes, but they were generally packed with talent and thus remain watchable messes. Secondly, the kind yet misguided critic who really wanted to laugh at Peter Sellers instead was by his own admission clearly at death’s door, and in his state would have been thrilled to bits by a string on a stick.
It’s a comedy with no jokes inside a mystery you couldn’t give a shit about, made by people who didn’t care and starring a cast who just wanted paid. And masterminded by a man whose idea of a spiffy wheeze is to try and poison Australia using two yappy hairballs.
Mortdecai is released in the shops today, but you might think about just having a lovely wank instead. You’re going to feel a bit sweaty and guilty either way, but if you have a wank – for the men, at least – there’s a chance you’ll end up with a small gobbet of information-carrying media you could possibly find a use for. Plus, you’ll have had around eight seconds of seriously good fun.
You won’t get either from Mortdecai.
Ricky Young is on the Tweeter.