“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”- Gustave H.- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
I could imagine a scenario where writers Wes Anderson and Eric Aronson met for some coffee one day. The two get to talking and decide hey let’s do a competition. What’s the competition? To write a film and get it onto the big screen. The only rules are, the main story has to deal with something based around a stolen painting, get inspiration from an author, and involve some sort of European satire . For Wes Anderson, he wrote and directed “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Easily one of the best films of the year and inspired from the writings Stefan Zwieg. This incredible feature would get nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. Meanwhile Eric Aronson would base his script off a novel by Kyril Bonfiglioli called “Don’t Point That Thing At Me”. Bringing on veteran writer and director, David Koepp to helm the project the results for the film that would be called “Mortdecai” would be far less stellar than the former.
This story is of course fictional, made up in my own head. Yet I could picture it happening. I mean they both deal with similar subject matter but in their own taste and styles. To compare “Mortdecai” to “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is more than unfair. I think the reason my head gravitated to that comparison is because watching “Mortdecai” I felt there was so much potential for a memorable, fun adventure European satire film that was lost in the development process, something that “Grand Budapest” avoided failing into.
“Mortdecai” is film about…well a man named Mortdecai of course. A wealthy eccentric businessman and art dealer, that must travel the globe getting mixed up with international terrorists and British secret intelligence to recover a lost and stolen painting that could contain a secret code to a lost Nazi fortune.
I think where “Mortdecai” initially goes wrong is it’s direction. On paper this sounds like yet another fun adventure in the same vein of something like “The Pink Panther” or “Austin Powers”. Yet while those films were completely bonkers and ridiculous, and allowed us to have fun along with all of its implausibility’s. “Mortdecai” doesn’t let us do that. “Mortdecai” seems to want to be a giant cartoon with ridiculous situations and gags but doesn’t allow itself to do so. Whereas those other films work in that realm, this doesn’t. The reason why it’s hard to have fun in its cartoon nature is because the tone feels unadjusted. While Mortdecai will be running around with his eyes wide as people shoot as him, we as the audience sit back and think, something isn’t right. The stakes around Mortdecai feel real and dangerous while the character himself doesn’t feel like he is in the right movie. David Koepp seems to be going for a Rated R version of “Johnny English” when this instead feels like it should be a PG-13 version of “The Pink Panther” mixed with a goofy spoof of “Sherlock Holmes”. Nothing here meshes well together. You almost sit back and go, I don’t get it? As if you’re missing something yourself.
Your next problem is the script. The story is all over the place. This movie has no focus whatsoever. One moment it’s trying to be goofy with cutaway gags and the next it’s dealing with a stupid subplot about how an MI5 secret agent that has “a thing” with Mortdecai’s wife, then back to this story about the stolen painting that makes Mordecai travel all over the world and none of that works either. Had this been a straight forward adventure with Mortdecai and Paul Bettany’s character and some of the other characters pushed off to the side lines, perhaps this movie would work better than the jumbled mess it actually is.
Humor wise this movie tries so hard to be funny and it never really is. There are a few chuckles here or there and maybe one moment of real laughter (which involved a goofy cutaway gag with Mortdecai and Paul Bettany) but in broad strokes this film just isn’t all that funny. I feel as though watching it that the screenwriters and filmmakers think all of it is funny with the several reoccurring gags (one involving his mustache which gets annoying). But, it comes across as an inside joke. Everyone making the movie seems to be laughing but no one else is.
I love Johnny Depp. I know there is a growing number of people that are starting to get tired of his “routine” but I find him to be a wonderfully talented and diverse actor. He is equally good as eccentric characters as he is at dramatic characters. I am always rooting for him. Here though, in a role that should be memorable and geared towards Depp’s talents, he becomes too eccentric. As “Mortdecai” he doesn’t seem to know when to restrain himself. At times him as Mortdecai has moments of brilliance but for the most part he crosses the boundaries and becomes annoying. Perhaps director David Koepp (whom has worked with him before on “Secret Window”) doesn’t know how to direct him properly. Directors Tim Burton and Gore Verbinski seem to know how far to push Depp in an eccentric role and when to tell him to pull it back. Koepp lets Depp go unchecked like a kid in a candy store but for the other people in the candy store it becomes tiresome and irritating quickly. We all hope for the parent or the manager of the candy store to tell him to calm down but they never do, and it never ends.
I was quite honestly looking forward to “Mortdecai”, unlike so many other people. I said this before, but I honestly saw quite a bit of potential in this project. Yet this movie is a letdown in every sense of the word. I wish this character, Mortdecai, had a different team of screenwriters and filmmakers surrounding him; this could have been much better than it actually was.