Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is in some financial bother. One of the landed gentry of England, he finds himself in rather a spot when he owes around eight million pounds in taxes that he simply does not have to hand, and therefore he must drum up financial support from somewhere. Oh, he may be exquisitely cultured, with gourmet tastes and a fine art collection the envy of many peers, not to mention a perfect shot with all sorts of weaponry, but when it comes to money matters it has to be said he's a failure, which is why he's in Hong Kong trying to sell a priceless vase to a dodgy local millionaire. Only the buyer tells him he will keep the vase and the cash, since that's what he owes him from their last deal...
Time to call on the services of Mortdecai's faithful manservant Jock, played by Paul Bettany in yet another of his career missteps; he was a decent actor, but couldn't half choose turkeys to appear in, and this little item was widely regarded as one of those. Not that Bettany was blamed, nope it was the man first billed who received the brickbats as it was judged to be another slide down the ladder of success from Johnny Depp, once the world's acting sweetheart but now with performances long since devolved into a selection of tics, quirks and funny voices that had worn thin with many audiences. He still had his fans, yet when this was released there didn't seem to be a whole lot of them turning out to see it.
But while critics both professional and amateur piled on, was it really quite as bad as all that? It was merely intended as a light confection, a modicum of frothy escapism for the viewer to forget their worries for a couple of hours, and what was so wrong with that? Basing its screenplay on one of Kyril Bonfiglioli's novels, which had followers themselves, writer Eric Aronson fashioned a star vehicle in the vein of the caper movies of the nineteen-sixties, although as it played with far saltier language and lewd references, along with a dose of off-colour humour such as vomit gags, what the end result resembled more was a refugee from the nineteen-nineties, when "new lad" culture was taking the United Kingdom by storm.
It was perhaps ironic that this would-be Cool Britannia film was being produced so long after the fact, and starring two Americans putting on accents to boot, but the impression was that if this had been released in 1996 then director David Koepp (not normally associated with comedy) would have likely had a hit on his hands, and not something more akin to The Avengers for the twenty-tens. OK, there was already a huge Avengers movie in the twenty-tens, but that had nothing to do with the British crimefighting, non-comic-book-based Avengers whose attempted revival in the late nineties was one of the films that signalled the end of that Four Weddings and a Funeral, Trainspotting, Full Monty and so on raise in fortunes that the industry was looking toward.
As it was, in Mortdecai Depp sported a groomed moustache as his instrument of humour, which his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) despises, and we know that because she makes that clear in her every scene. The actual plot wasn't to do with facial hair, it concerned the search for a lost Goya painting our plummy-voiced hero needs to get his hands on if he is to pay off his tax bill, but there are other, less polite scoundrels on its trail as well, from Russia to Los Angeles, which is also where the action veers to and from. Mortdecai relies on Bettany's bruising Jock to get him out of trouble, a relationship a shade more successful for amusement than the one with his wife, and Ewan McGregor was the MI5 man who corrals him into the rigmarole in the first place, but only after a good half hour of messing about, making it look like all involved were more keen on hanging out and being very silly than getting around to the supposed thriller storyline. It depended on your tolerance for Depp, if you liked him you'd find this agreeable enough, if not, stay well away. Music by Mark Ronson and Geoff Zanelli.