Film Review: ‘Mortdecai’

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Film Review: ‘Mortdecai’.

Should the recent surge in male facial hair as a fashion accessory stall in 2015, barbers would be within their rights to blame “Mortdecai,” a perky but obstinately unfunny heist caper with a hero irksome enough to make any happily mustachioed man reconsider his life choices.Hollywood actors, with their luminous beauty, luxurious lifestyles, lucrative brand partnerships and lactose-free diets – what more could they possibly want from life beyond respect for their privacy and the formula for anti-ageing?

It stars Johnny Depp as a debonair art dealer and part time rogue who travels the world armed only with dollops of charm and striking good looks in a bid to find the Goya, which it is rumoured contains the code to a lost bank account filled with Nazi gold. “When I read the book, like 10 years ago, the character was such a beautiful kind of.. in a weird way, kind of pure but he’s a sleaze. Directed (but, unusually, not written) by an off-form David Koepp, the film shoots for the swinging insouciance of ’60s farce, but this story of a caddish art dealer enlisted by MI5 to assist in a knotty theft case is longer on frippery than quippery: There’s a fatal shortage of zingers to supplement its exhausting zaniness. Well, according to Johnny Depp, there’s a multitude of movie stars nonchalantly expecting adoration in the music industry, too. “That whole idea for me is a sickening thing, it’s always just made me sick,” the best friend of Marilyn Manson and sometime guitarist told reporters in Berlin in advance of the world premiere of his latest film, Mortdecai. “The kind of luxury now is, anybody with a certain amount of success, if you have a kind of musical being, you can go out and start a band and capitalise on your work in other areas. The movie also features Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor and is directed by David Koepp, who as a writer has worked on blockbuster Hollywood films such as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Spider-Man’. “I’ve never had so much fun on a film set and usually when movies end, your’re kind of glad and desperate to go home and this one I was really sad that it was over,” Bettany said. Eric Aronson’s script — his first feature-length effort since 2001’s little-cherished Lance Bass starrer “On the Line” — is based on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s 1973 novel “Don’t Point That Thing at Me,” the first in a moderately popular comic series centered on the amoral trickster Charlie Mortdecai.

You want the people who are listening to the music to only be interested in the music.” While Depp didn’t specifically identify who he had in mind, there’s a longlist of pop posturers to whom he could have been alluding, from the part-time acoustic ramblings of tween mega stars to the major league album shifters who’ve cashed in on their notoriety. Mortdecai’s twitchy ‘stache was enough of a character trademark to feature in the title of the series’ final chapter; while it might be stretching a point to call Depp’s daintily upturned walrus whiskers the film’s best joke, it’s certainly its hardest-working one, serving as the impetus for several long-running gags. (If auds aren’t tickled the first time Mortdecai’s upper-lip rug triggers a woman’s gag reflex, the film reasons, they’ll warm to the idea with repetition.) If that’s not much to build a comedy on, it’s an even flimsier basis for a character: As presented here, at least, Mortdecai is certainly daft, but not in the singularly absurd way that makes Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, say, a distinctly human figure of fun. The couple exchanged vows in a wedding in Palos Verdes, Calif. — and only the new issue of Us Weekly has all the exclusive details and pictures from their special day.

Rather, he’s an amalgam of easy-target toff characteristics — a preening, lily-livered aristocrat of indeterminate provenance, forced to live by his unreliable wits as his fortune supposedly runs dry. Hartsock, 28, who got engaged to Siegfried, 29, on the season nine finale of The Bachelorette in May 2013 (it aired three months later in August), gave Us an inside look at the nuptials, including photos of her two dresses, her bridesmaids, and her first dance with her new husband. Not that there’s any evidence of financial strain in his immaculate country pile or his equally polished trophy wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow, game but under-challenged), whose plainly superior intellect hasn’t yet inspired her to leave this dolt and head up a posh adventure franchise of her own. If push came to shove, meanwhile, it seems Mortdecai would sooner lose Johanna than his quietly hulking Cockney manservant, Jock Strapp (these are the jokes, people), played by a creatively if not-quite-happily cast Paul Bettany; our man remains too self-absorbed, however, for any upstairs-downstairs bromance to take root. Mortdecai’s usual subsistence strategy of art-related con jobs — passing off tat as treasure, in much the same way he passes himself off as a gentleman — is taken up a notch when Security Service agent Martland (Ewan McGregor) comes knocking.

Whether or not the Licks’ relatively derivative anarchy is your cup of spit, Juliette Lewis has more rock’n’roll spirit in one of her toenails than the combined forces of Royal Blood could ever muster. Produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, including lyrics by Tom Waits and collaborations with David Bowie and members of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Anywhere I Lay My Head was the critically lauded debut album from Johansson, whose voice so impressed the Guardian’s Dorian Lynskey that he drew comparisons with Nico, Kim Deal and Martina Topley-Bird. No prizes for guessing the decoys and double-crossings that ensue as the action zooms — literally so, with bouncy 3D atlas graphics — from London to Moscow to Los Angeles and back again, with a hammy side of thickly accented heavies in tow.

That’s right – she may be the ker-azy kookster in part responsible for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope but, alongside M Ward, Zooey Deschanel also pens a wistful little country ditty under She & Him. The outcome is neither surprising nor especially smart; Koepp, whose last directorial outing, “Premium Rush,” demonstrated his occasional knack for unabashed gee-whiz silliness, is more concerned with keeping the story at an active simmer. Master of mumblecore Michael Cera first showed his affection for music with a Moldy Peaches cover in Juno, before a surprise album of DIY folk and alt-pop arrived last year. But rather like Michael Hoffman’s ill-fated, Coens-scripted “Gambit” — a slightly more disarming attempt at comparable genre-throwback territory — the film is only frenzied, never fizzy.

Its arch, abstract character relationships keep even the most superficial emotional stakes at bay; Depp and Paltrow make a sleek screen couple, but their marital banter is too low on venom, and too heavily enshrouded in quote marks, to read as sexy. They have sold more than 15m albums worldwide, despite their overwrought brand of emo earning the accolade: “If Derek Zoolander made a record …” from one reviewer.

McGregor, not ordinarily an actor who has to work especially hard to charm, is stymied by a role that amounts to little more than a makeweight romantic foil for two mutually dispassionate spouses; the dynamic between them is less a love triangle than it is a sexless detente cordiale. He might have Hollywood’s most celebrated face, body and approach to fatherhood, but can he pull off earnest acoustic singer-songwriter simultaneously? Then again, Depp has entered a realm of performance so self-amused, one imagines most co-stars would struggle to forge chemistry with him. (As a margarine-slick Yank billionaire also in the hunt for the Goya, the redoubtable Jeff Goldblum goes largest and comes closest.) Resplendent with eccentric, Peter Sellers-indebted vocal tics and spasms, his Mortdecai is neither a careless nor an artless creation. At least, in line with its eponymous protagonist’s aesthetic sensibility, the film isn’t afraid to splash its money around: James Merifield’s production design and Ruth Myers’ costumes both hit the right note of gauche grandeur, gleaming under the bright, color-intensive glare of Florian Hoffmeister’s camera. Also on the earnest tip is Twilight megastar Robert Pattinson, whose raspy, wizened acoustic rock seems to go down a storm with the tweens in the YouTube comment sections.

And pop-funk producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson, making his first foray into film scoring, was an appropriate choice to assist composer Geoff Zanelli: His cluttered horn arrangements are in keeping with the pic’s retro leanings and manic disposition. Again, nothing particularly flawed about the performance musically, but next to the rock veterans he’s emulating the songs are just a little bit sanctimonious and self-aware. But with tracks named All the Pizza Parties (All Tomorrow’s Parties), Pizza Gal (Femme Fatale) and Take a Bite of the Wild Slice (Walk on the Wild Side), the fundamental flaw is that they’re not actually funny.

Camera (color, widescreen), Florian Hoffmeister; editors, Jill Savitt, Derek Ambrosi; music, Mark Ronson, Geoff Zanelli; production designer, James Merifield; art director, Patrick Rolfe; set decorator, Sara Wan; costume designer, Ruth Myers; sound (Dolby Digital), Tony Dawe; supervising sound editor, Ron Bochar; re-recording mixers, Bochar, Tom Fleischman; visual effects supervisor, Paul Linden; visual effects, Prime Focus VFX; stunt coordinator, Rowley Irlam; line producers, Misato Shinohara, Akash Roy; associate producer, Monique Feig; assistant director, Josh Robertson; second unit directors, Peter MacDonald, Rowley Irlam, George Aguilar; second unit camera, Craig Feather; casting, John Papsidera, Elaine Granger. Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Munn, Michael Culkin, Johnny Pasvolsky, Ulrich Thomsen, Alex Utgoff, Rob De Groot, Guy Burnet, Paul Whitehouse, Norma Atallah, Michael Byrne, Nicholas Farrell, Jenna Russell.

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