Sophistication has a name. Mediocrity has the same one. It’s a review of “Mortdecai!”

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Mortdecai

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Is there a top-of-the-line actor with worse recent luck than Johnny Depp? I call it luck because I don’t believe the man ever stopped trying hard, nor has he been choosing projects without promise. Since the height of Pirates of the Caribbean’s popularity, Depp has returned to serious dramatic fare with Public Enemies, retreaded familiar Tim Burton ground with Dark Shadows, gave another Jack Sparrow-esque performance in The Lone Ranger, and took part in an ambitious science fiction project with Transcendence. None of those movies had enough production support to sustain it, leaving Depp high and dry with the wolf critics who believe a movie’s quality begins and ends with its star. Mortdecai is Johnny Depp’s latest attempt to rebound his career and create a new lasting franchise character. But once again, his strong effort is buried under the weight of poor writing and planning. If I were Depp, I’d be losing trust in the studio system and consider a jump to television. At least there he won’t be unfairly expected to carry mediocre material by himself.

Adapted from the first of three adventure novels by British author Kyril Bonfiglioli, the story follows art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) and his man-servant Jock (Paul Bettany) on a quest to recover a stolen painting. Somehow Charlie’s art expertise is enough to convince authorities that he’s the best man to follow the trail. Too bad he’s about as helpful as Inspector Gadget at a murder mystery dinner. Charlie travels from London to Moscow to London again to Los Angeles back to London again (because those are the only places in England, Russia and America movies know of) in a annoyingly disjointed narrative that’s only there to waste the post-production budget on animated traveling bits (which would have only had purpose if Carmen Sandiego was revealed to be their thief.)

The title character borrows the mannerisms (and could be considered the British counterpart) of Inspector Jacques Clouseau from the Pink Panther series, while his assistant is played straight from the Secret Service handbook. Charlie and Jock have a Don Quixote/Sancho type of relationship that produces the film’s biggest laughs. Charlie tends to tangle himself up into sticky situation after stickier situation, mostly through his own stupidity. Jock selflessly sacrifices increasingly higher amounts of his own well-being to get Charlie out of danger and it’s amusing to see how far he’s willing to go to protect his client. An amusing flashback sequence shows Jock getting Dick Cheneyed at a hunting excursion as Charlie quickly shrugs off the accident as if he spilled water on the table. If not for his blank slate personality, Jock might have been the better character to follow because of his James Bond ability to win any challenge, recover from any injury and take any girl to bed.

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Rounding out the supporting cast is Charlie’s snobbish wife Johanna¬† played by Gwyneth Paltrow, an under-utilized Ewan McGregor as her former lover Alistair, and Olivia Munn in a degrading role that takes two far steps backward from the empowering persona her Sloan Sabbith character on HBO’s The Newsroom opened up for her. Paltrow and McGregor aren’t given much to do except play straight person to Depp’s antics, but with Bettany already filling that role more than adequately, they seem to have been brought in only for promotional value. Munn has proven she can drop an intimidating presence on cue, but she’s reduced here to an object for Charlie and the male viewers to salivate at. Her role is a symptom of the greater issue. The movie’s over-reliance on sex humor creates a product that feels dated back to the years Austin Powers ruled the box office. Charlie can’t seem to do anything that doesn’t look like he’s making the moves on someone when it’s seen out of context. When the “Jock is banging another woman” punchline was used a third time within a five minute time span, that was the red flag indicating that the movie had run out of bailout tools too early. Even the villains are weirdly obsessed with electrifying other people’s testicles. I hope the source material had more variety and wit because the shooting script looks like it was based on the daydreams of a bullied high school honors student.

It’s easy to ridicule Johnny Depp for being the goofy face of a comedy that’s a joke in itself. But Depp doesn’t work like he’s tied to a ball and chain. Charlie Mortdecai managed to stay a fresh character even after walking through sludge for a hundred minutes. For that, an actor should be commended. I got some entertainment out of Charlie’s sarcastic and arrogant mannerisms. The character belongs with the late-night cable classics. Thanks to mishandling however, it’s destined for the late-night talk show monologues.

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Score Board

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Premise: 4 (out of 10)

Lead character: 8 (out of 10)

Supporting characters: 4 (out of 10)

Plot: 3 (out of 10)

Comedy: 4 (out of 10)

Action: 7 (out of 10)

 Going going once: Hope

Going going twice: Pride

Sold: out of tickets nowhere

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Overall: 5 (out of 10)

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Mortdecai

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