In the controversial 1970s expose “Subliminal Seduction,” author Wilson Bryan Key divulged how advertisers plant unperceivable images in our heads — erotic figures in ice cubes, for instance — to influence our purchasing habits.
If that’s so, the silly upturned mustache Johnny Depp sports in the comedy “Mortdecai” should impart a perennial smile on us. Instead, the bumbling art collector-slash-detective, five or six chuckles notwithstanding, registers as a weak clone of Rowan Atkinson’s subtly brilliant character; in other words … wait for it … “Bean there, done that!”
With intimate knowledge of the illegal art trade, Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) is called in to help recover a valuable Goya on the back of which is inscribed the number of a Swiss account Nazis used to hide cash, gold and other valuables.
Mortdecai has another reason for pursuing the Goya. He is broke. Worse than that, he owes millions in back taxes to the British government and consequently is at serious risk of losing his attractive wife (the squeeing Gwyneth Paltrow). Paltrow, by the way, positively detests his lady tickler and reminds him of that fact almost as frequently as he brings up (!) his “sympathetic gag reflex.”
Suffice to say, Mortdecai is an anachronism, but not in an entertaining way like, say, Austin Powers. Instead, he is the embodiment of a cursory 1960s parody of Brits, and the film’s humor comes off as having been written in contemporary American gags then converted to dry wit and back using Google translate. Sort of there, but off at the same time.
Ewan McGregor brings little to his inspector character pining for Paltrow. Even the historically wonderful Jeff Goldblum, as one of Mortdecai’s U.S. customers, fails to add value. Paul Bettany (the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. in “Iron Man”) is Mortdecai’s bodyguard named Jock Strapp, which says a lot about what they think of the audience — dumbing-down the traditional French variation “Jacques.” Even worse, that gag is exercised more than once, stretching it beyond what is funny even to a second grader.
Less forgivable is Depp, who has a strong comic wit (though I am probably the only one who liked “Dark Shadows”) but an unfortunate penchant towards conflating quirkiness and his invented enigma, both of which he would do well to jettison.
As for this one: Let’s just say: “Mortdecai” falls shortdecai.
Med City Movie Guy’s rating: 2 Honks