Thursday, July 09, 2015

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #49. Mortdecai (2015)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details. Visit the Johnny Kitties page for a full list of Johnny Depp's filmography and links to all previous Johnny Kitties blog posts.]

Mortdecai is very unique and special. It's very different from anything I have done before. We haven't seen that type of caper movie for a number of years. If you go back and watch movies, like The Pink Panther or some of the wonderful French films with Louis de Funes, there's really something great about those caper films that teeter toward farcical. 
Johnny Depp on Mortdecai

Who is Mortdecai?
Based on the novel Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bunfiglioli, Mortdecai stars Johnny Depp as an aristocratic art dealer, who is drowning in debt and denial. When his old friend and rival, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), ropes him into helping to search for a stolen painting, he becomes bogged down by Russians, a terrorist, and other troubling inconveniences. With a beautiful but unhappy wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) at home, Charlie Mortdecai at least still has his trusty man servant Jock (Paul Bettany) always nearby to take care of everything. But will everything turn out all right in the end?

I tried to tame my anticipation.
Ewan McGregor has always been one of my favorite actors, but – unlike my Johnny Experience – I'm not sure how or when my love for Ewan McGregor began. I don't always know what movies he'll be in or when they're coming out, but I see them all. I love catching him on talk shows, but I never think to check for his name on the schedules ahead of time. I've even read his books about his motorcycle trips around the world, and I don't even like motorcycles.

I love them!!!
So, when I found out that Ewan McGregor signed on to co-star in Mortdecai with Johnny, I was thrilled. Then, when the Mortdecai previews came out, they made me laugh out loud. I was really excited about the director, David Koepp, who directed Johnny in Secret Window, and the rest of the cast, which included Paul Bettany, Gwyneth Paltrow, Olivia Munn, and Jeff Goldblum. Then, one day, it occurred to me that I was setting this thing up for failure: No pressure, everyone, I just want this to be the best movie ever.

So, I went back to trying to ignore it was happening. It wasn't too hard because I was distracted by an endless string of colds that I was trying to expel from my body with Sudafed and sleep.

There's a first time for everything. 
By the time Mortdecai opened, my most recent persistent cold had dragged my mood back down to blahville, and I kept putting off seeing Mortdecai during opening weekend. Because I was indecisive about when I had to leave my apartment, I ended up scanning the theater schedules on Fandango, where I couldn't help being shocked by Mortdecai's cumulative critics' score of 12 out of 100. So I did what I never do – looked at what critics had to say. I didn't actually read the reviews, but saw some short, memorable takeaways, like:
  • "Charmless, mirthless, witless, this waste of time is another black mark on Depp's card, while his co-stars fare little better. Even low expectations won't help you here." 
  • "Mortdecai is an anachronistic mess that never succeeds..." 
  • "What a frantically dull spectacle this vanity project is."
  • "Johnny Depp's done so much for us over the years; let's forget this movie ever happened." (I don't think this one was from Fandango, but it's my favorite.) 
Come on, it can't be that bad, I thought. Yet, by the time I got out of the house to see Mortdecai that Sunday afternoon, I approached it like an errand.

It's not a good look, Johnny!
And I hated it! I couldn't believe how much I hated it so immediately. I sat, stunned and annoyed by Johnny's wimpy character, pleading in my head to him to talk normally and slower and just be more Johnny-like. When that didn't work, I searched frantically for something good to say about Mortdecai. What about his co-stars, the sets, the direction, and the story? What was even going on in this story? I couldn't follow it. Why were the jokes so stupid? How many times were they going to refer to that horrible mustache? I finished my popcorn and began falling asleep – another troubling first. In the theater, though, one person kept me awake: A big black guy, who sat a few rows in front of me,  cracked up at everything! Does that guy represent the audience for this movie?, I wondered. I left the theater bewildered, disappointed, and very panicked that I got nothing out of what I just saw; did this mean the end of Johnny Kitties?

Jock saves the day here....
"Johnny doesn't have to make awesome movies every time," my dad said when I told him my horrible news. But he does and he has, I disagreed unreasonably in my head. Clearly, I was under the influence of nagging illness, Sudafed, and mean critics when I first saw Mortdecai. (My advice to everyone is don't read reviews before seeing a movie and make up  your own mind.) Still, I worried while waiting for the movie to be released on DVD. What if, after my cold is gone, Mortdecai is still completely awful?

Relax, I'm over it. 
I may have been recovering from something still when Mortdecai arrived from Netflix. I had to restart it a few times because I kept falling asleep. Maybe it was leftover trauma from my first viewing, my fear of a second reaction, or maybe I was just really tired. My unplanned naps were a good thing: the more times I had to start the movie over to watch it again, the funnier it got. It turns out that I actually like Mortdecai after all!

He takes care of things here too.
Still, this isn't my favorite of Johnny's roles. His accent, which didn't bother me at all in the commercials, sometimes gets on my nerves after a while; other times, I can't even understand what he says. Also, this character bumbles around a lot. When trouble brews, he just asks his man servant what he should do and waits around for someone else to fix his situation. This helplessness takes me out of the movie at times because, obviously, Johnny can take care of himself. In some moments, I just want him to be cooler, as I know Johnny can be. Johnny's above some of this movie's humor, in my opinion, which I just don't always find funny or clever. Maybe I'll get there after more viewings.

This still may be my favorite moment. 
In any case, Johnny explained himself in a DVD featurette, which helped me appreciate everything about Mortdecai more. Someone gave him the book that Mortdecai is based on, which he describes as "one of those books that makes you laugh out loud. It's just so beautifully irreverent and insane, but it's one of those stories, you're thinking, it translates to cinema only if you go to the extreme." He describes his character as pure and honest, someone who never thinks about what others are thinking. Charlie Mortdecai always assumes things will work out, despite whatever chaos is surrounding him, and whatever he says he believes to be true. Knowing that, I found everything about this character funnier and even a little endearing. Maybe I need to read the book for a full understanding.

By the fourth and final time I restarted and watched Mortdecai, I found plenty to like about it. Before the movie came out, everyone involved was comparing it to The Pink Panther movies,directed by Blake Edwards and starring Peter Sellers. Comparing this or any new movie to any classic, like The Pink Panther, is not a good idea; why put that standard in people's heads? However, I know why they all made the comparison, even if it's an unequal match. I see what they were going for with the performances and David Koepp's slick direction. From the opening credits on, you get the light-hearted, comedic feel for what's to come.

Spinoza is a mechanic full of creative insults.
Johnny's performance may be distracting in some moments, but it's brilliant in others. The rest of the cast is wonderful too. My favorite is Paul Whitehouse – who's shown up in several of Johnny's movies, like Finding Neverland, Alice in Wonderland, and Corpse Bride. His brief appearance here as Spinoza makes me laugh out loud every time. I'm also happy to see Olivia Munn in this movie because she always makes me laugh too. Paul Bettany, who previously co-starred with Johnny in The Tourist and Transcendence, makes an impressive, funny tough guy. Gwyneth Paltrow is great, as usual (and in an equally great wardrobe), and Ewan McGregor is, of course, awesome.

Timing is everything in this movie, and this cast not only gets it right but seemed to have a blast working on it. "It's the most fun I've ever had on set," Johnny says. His kissing scene with Gwyneth Paltrow, in which she's too repulsed by his new mustache and which was in all of the commercials for Mortdecai, apparently took 15 or so takes because they couldn't stop laughing. "Most of my energy on set has been spent trying not to laugh," Paul Bettany admits.

These high spirits come through in the final product. I suspect they might even be contagious; as I said, I laughed more and more with each viewing. And, again, I saw some critic reviews without even trying – this time noting the DVD release – saying that Mortdecai is worth another look. But don't take their fickle word for it. I promise, Mortdecai will grow on you, so give it a chance!

These are my two favorite kitties!
I was really worried about finding something to draw for Mortdecai at first; it's one of the reasons I had to watch it four times. Since the most exciting thing about this movie to me was the prospect of Johnny and Ewan working together, I limited my options to the scenes they shared. Unfortunately, they don't have many. (They'll make up for it by working together again someday, right, casting directors?) Luckily, however, I realized eventually that one of their scenes is the key to everything.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film 49. Mortdecai (2015) [May 31, 2015]

In this scene, Inspector Martland (Comet) reveals the plot when he enlists Charlie Mortdecai (Gordon) to help him find a stolen painting. In return, his host offers him some rancid cheese. This scene not only tells you the plot, but captures Charlie Mortdecai's posh lifestyle and past, these characters and their rivalry, and even secret treasures. I stuck Jock (Norman) in there too because he really is always around to save the day.

What's next?
Johnny hears my illness-induced complaints and sinks his teeth into a serious drama, playing mobster Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. I haven't seen the previews yet and am afraid of the violence in store, but I'm very excited just the same. See it September 18th! A Johnny Kitties tribute will follow its DVD release.

Photo credits: All images © Lionsgate

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