Tuesday 27 January 2015



2015  US
Directed by David Koepp 
UK cinema release print.

Okay... I feel I need to do two things here right off the bat. One is to explain my reasons for actually voluntarily going to the cinema to see this tragic misfire of a movie and the other is to point out that there were actually one or two good things to be found in it... just not enough to save the picture, I think.

Also, let me point out straight away, in case you were in any doubt, I really hate trashing a movie where a lot of obviously talented people have worked a long time on something. It’s not the best thing to do... just the most truthful. I said something along the lines of my personal stakes in being honest on the last review I posted (see my review of Ex Machina here) and so I have to be as straight with my readers as I can. Sometimes that means saying things which might hurt some people’s feelings so... I apologise for that now.

Shooting from the hip then, I should perhaps share the story of how I once used to say that Johnny Depp was such a talented actor (and he certainly is a genius of the profession) and builder of characters that there was pretty much no movie he couldn’t save just by being in it. Look at the three sequels to the original Pirates Of The Caribbean movie if you need proof of that. Awful films but still fairly watchable because Depp is such a pleasure to observe. All that changed when I saw a movie he was in back in 2004 called Secret Window, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel he was top lining. All I can say is... not even Johnny Depp could save that movie. It was just awful.

Flash forward to the screening of Depp’s new film Mortdecai and I am once again shown that, even though Depp is obviously doing his best and probably loving it, by the looks of it, he and his fellow talented actors and actresses are unable to pull this through and make it anything more than... hard to watch without constantly checking the nearest time piece. Imagine my surprise, then, when I later discovered that David Keopp, the film’s director, had actually also directed Secret Window back in 2004. I dunno... maybe it’s just Keopp’s movies that Johnny Depp can’t save, who knows? Although some of Depp’s more recent stints for Tim Burton have been hovering into that category, methinks.

Now one of the reasons for me going to see this movie was because the trailer showed a variety of well known actors in a promotion which was, honestly, absolutely terrible looking... but that’s not always a problem. You see, I remember seeing the trailer for the Terry Gilliam remake of The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen back in the late 1980s and it being an absolutely abysmal advert for the film. I certainly didn’t want to go and see it but, after being almost pressured into it by a bunch of friends who wanted me to go with them, it turned out to be an absolutely marvellous movie and nothing like the terrible trailer, presumably put together by people who just didn’t know how to market this kind of stuff, had made it out to be. I thought this might well be the case with Mortdecai since so many great actors such as Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany were all involved. After all, why would such people lend thier time and talent to something if they didn’t have a heck of a lot of faith in the product... they’d obviously read the script hadn’t they?

Alas, it’s an old cliché about film making at best but, like a few films before it in the history of cinema, Mortdecai appears to be a classic case of the movie makers actually having a much better time filming this half-baked monstrosity than the potential audience would ever have watching it. The script seems to be the main problem here too, in my opinion, having not read Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel Don’t Point That Thing At Me on which this movie is purported to be based. The cast are all absolutely marvellous and invested in these neat little characters they’ve all obviously had fun putting together but the problem with the script is that... well, for the most part it’s just not even remotely funny. Or at least it’s not funny during the crucial first half an hour or so to help elevate the audience into a lighter mood. Indeed, a fair few of the audience actually started talking to each other after a while, in their restlessness, and continued on throughout the course of the movie. I’ve rarely seen such a talkative audience behaving this badly in a cinema except for once that I can recall, back in 2004. I wonder what that film was called? Hint: I mention it by title in the third and fourth paragraphs here?

The other problem I have with the script is that there are hardly any likeable or redeemable (to a point) characters in this. I can’t relate to any of these super rich, cowardly fops and I think it proves that point when I say that the only one I was really invested in throughout the movie was Paul Bettany’s character Jock Strap (yeah, this movie really is pitching at that level, folks) in that he seemed to be the only character in the film with his head half screwed on the right way round, to be honest.

There are, as I said, two really decent things about the movie, asides from the talented but mostly wasted acting abilities of a number of amazing people, and I’m not forgetting that...

The first thing is the transition sequences from country to country. Mortdecai is an art dealer on a globe hopping, secret agent style mission and the film makers have really done a terrific update on the travel sequences, harkening back to the times in old movies (and films like the Indiana Jones franchise, which were also looking back with nostalgia to those same old movies) of the plane graphic travelling over the map of the world. This time the plane is three quarters on and jetting through easily identifiable and zoomed in landmarks of the various countries including large, two dimensional letterforms standing up in three dimensional space. The various planes swoop past or through the letters of the country to get to their destination, in one memorable moment smashing through the typography for Los Angeles. This is all very nice.

The other pretty good thing about the movie is the score by Mark Ronson and Geoff Zanelli. It’s mixed well into the foreground and sounds like a funky, mid sixties spy movie on acid in certain sections which, to be fair, is not quite appropriate to the visuals but I think that’s not the issue here. I think what’s happening here is that the producers kinda guessed they had a dud on their hands and were looking to the score to save the movie somehow (I’d heard a few tracks from the score before the film opened and that was another reason I’d allowed myself to be lured into the cinema to see it). My suspicion is that the composers were scoring the film that the crew wanted to make, rather than come up with something appropriate to reflect the final product. Either way, whether they were instructed to try and save the movie in this way or not, the score pretty much rocks and if the planned CD release still goes ahead in February, I’ll probably pick this one up, I think.

Not so, the film though, which I’ll hopefully never have to sit down to watch again in my life. From the terrible Temple Of Doom parody at the start of the movie and right on through to the end credits, Mortdecai proved to be a well played, well crafted but terribly written and unfunny attempt at an adventure flavoured comedy. Very young children might, perhaps, quite like it but for anybody with a better developed sense of fun, well... even big kids like myself will probably find it less than enjoyable. A bit of a cinematic disaster, I’m afraid, would be my sad conclusion.

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