Halfway through watching the film, my cousin Gavin leaned over and asked:
“Why is this so awful?”
He likely just wanted to express how terrible the film is (very) but it’s a genuinely interesting question. Mortedecai has a lot of individual elements that could – indeed, should – work, but the film is a travesty. Almost none of the jokes land, the plot is simultaneously tedious and scattered, and the relationships make absolutely no sense.
Oh, and there’s a total of two speaking female characters (if you ignore the string of women who literally only exist for one of the characters to have loud sex with). They never have a conversation, and so this film resoundly fails the Bechdel Test.
Georgiana Krampf (Olivia Munn) is given “nymphomaniac” as their entire personality, while the other, Johanna Mortdecai (Gwyneth Paltrow), is impossibly clever, attractive, and – of course – madly in love with our man-child main character.
Neither of them has a scrap of personality, and no matter how hard Gwyneth Paltrow desperately tries, she can’t do anything interesting (or even amusing) with the total lack of character she’s been given.
As nice as it would be to claim that poor female characters were responsible for the film being such a heaping pile of dreck, we have countless classics to prove that’s not enough in itself.
And so we return to Gavin’s question: Why is Mortdecai so awful?
Yes, Johnny Depp overacts in every frame. But if there’s anyone whose proven they can get away with overacting, it’s Depp. What’s more, he’s just clearly having so much fun in the role, it’s hard not to enjoy it with him.
So if not Depp, then who? The rest of the cast is top-notch. The film is adapted from a well-received series of books from the 70s (dated, possibly, but still quite popular) and the director has been adapting novels for more than twenty years now.
Ultimately, it makes the most sense to lay the blame at the feet of the writer – Eric Aronson has exactly one other credit to his name, and it’s from 2001. The script is a mess; it doesn’t seem to understand the core dynamics of the characters or even know who we’re supposed to be rooting for. It jumps straight from slow, dry, attempting-to-be-witty scenes to juvenile humor, and doesn’t even bother trying to present a theme.
Jock (Paul Bettany) is consistently funny throughout the film. Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) has his moments. Everything else is a waste of time; if you’re thinking of going to see this, don’t bother.