Saturday, January 24, 2015


I'm calling BS on everybody who ever says "it's a good thing my expectations were so low, because that made it funnier". That's certainly not what happened to me with Mortdecai; the non-stop non-funny trailers had me ready to hate it well ahead of seeing it, so when I found myself kind of just enjoying Johnny Depp as the title character during the last act, I had to wonder - was he legitimately better in those scenes, or had he finally gotten bast the bad first thirty impressions? I don't know, but I can say this - having low expectations certainly had me noticing the things that confirmed them more than the ones that countered them through much of the movie.

Those low expectations had my actually seeing this opening night seem like a cruel joke, though - I had actually gone to Boston Common to see Strange Magic, but that was cancelled - whether to put on more screenings of American Sniper, because of some sort of projector malfunction, or something else, I don't know - which meant deciding to either see something else (and I just wasn't in the mood for Sniper or Cake) or go home. I get that Strange Magic is probably not much good either, but it at least had me legitimately curious rather than morbidly so.

And I must admit, I'm a little more curious now after having seen the movie. Johnny Depp so overshadowed everything else in the marketing that it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I saw "Directed by David Koepp" in an ad, and that got me interested - the man's a good writer and Premium Rush was a surprisingly good thriller that he directed. The weird thing is, he doesn't have a writing credit, though a little anthropology of sites (like eFilmCritic!) that have not yet been updated to reflect WGA credits suggests he did touch the script at some point. An article about the movie's pervasive advertising pointed me at how this was actually based on a novel from the 1970s called "Don't Point That Thing at Me" that had two or three or four follow-ups (one was about Mortdecai's ancestor and only tangentially related and another needed a second author to finish it up after the creator's death), and its description on Amazon as Wodehouse-meets-Chandler is a hell of a lot more interesting than "wacky Johnny Depp vehicle". I'm going to have to get that.

It makes me wonder how Mortdecai ended up the movie it is, though. It looks like it went something like "David Koepp reads original book, adapts it, Johnny Depp gets attached, budget balloons, suits want something more mainstream, rewrites, Koepp stays on as director and does what he can", but a little sifting makes it look like Depp may have been the guy who originated the project, and if that's the case and this is what he wanted to make, then it is even more imperative that his plans to remake The Thin Man never see the light of day.

From the description of the books (which I'll probably download as soon as I've got a working tablet again), they seem to be right up my alley, and it looks like a pretty great movie could have been made of it with, say, Hugh Laurie in the lead role. Heck, it strikes me that this would make a pretty good Masterpiece Mystery series with that casting.

This thing probably salted the earth for that, though. Shame.


* * (out of four)
Seen 23 January 2015 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

It is easy to blame Johnny Depp for all that is wrong with Mortdecai - he's a producer, he's been front and center in the terribly unfunny coming attraction that has played before seemingly every movie over the last few months, and, to be frank, he has squandered a lot of audience goodwill on performances with more mannered quirk than genuine charm over the past decade or so. It's not all on him, though; while he doesn't help, he hurts less than you might expect. And who knows - maybe his input actually contributed to the moments when you can see the pieces of a potentially great movie.

Depp plays Lord Charlie Mortdecai, an aristocrat and art dealer (frequently in the black market) whose estate is nearly bankrupt. He's not that bright, but when an art restorer in Oxford is murdered by a terrorist (Jonny Pasvolsky), MI-5 agent Alastair Martland (Ewan McGregor), who happens to have a long-standing crush on Charlie's wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), calls him in to help. So he and his rough-and-tumble manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) are off, stumbling after a stolen painting on a caper that will take them around the world.

I don't think it is ever mentioned in the movie that Jock's full name in the original novel Don't Point That Thing at Me is "Jock Strapp", and both of those names sum up what seems to be the biggest problem with Mortdecai - it is merely off-color when it should be raunchy, and arch when it should be vulgar. It's probably also dumb when it should be smart, like Eric Aronson's script has made Mortdecai into a moron instead of a bastard because someone was afraid that a black-humored noir parody that actually feels like one wouldn't draw a crowd (or at least, not enough of one to make back whatever they're shelling out for the cast and locations). Mortdecai's dimness through much of the movie contrasts with how capable he must be at certain points, or the somewhat witty narration likely lifted from the original book.

Full review at EFC.

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