Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mortdecai [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (1/2 Star)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (G. Lodge) review (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (J. Hessenger) review

Mortdecai [2015] (directed by David Koepp, screenplay by  Eric Aronson, based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Kyril Bonfiglioli [GR] [IMDb]) is another typical "January" (or at least "Winter") "Hollywood Release," that is, often not particularly good, but above all considered to be _risky_ for one reason or another.

Gems released at this time of year in the recent past have included the "Trenton NJ / blue collar comedy" / Katherine Heigl vehicle One for the Money [2012], and the inversely "lost era" comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] (the second actually proving good enough to earn the 2014 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Comedy / Musical) and nine (!) Oscar nominations including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Picture).

Other "risky" projects to have been released at this time of year have included the Hollywood star-studded, but _wildly over-the-top crude_ (yet often mouth-gaping-open LOL funny) Movie 43 [2013], the "we never even left the 'green screen' studio" CGI / 3-D "experimental dream-sequence epic" Sucker Punch [2011], and the stylized or otherwise "risky" dramatizations of two 20th century American literary classics - Kerouac's On The Road [2012] and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby [2013] (the latter, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in what I still believe to be the single best performance of his entire career).

Of the above examples, the current film, Mortdecai [2015], certainly above-all a Johnny Depp vehicle (though costars Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor are quite excellent as well), most closely resembles The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

The film will NOT be "for everybody."  Indeed, as I watched it, I kept thinking of a 2008 Onion article about the coming "Aristocratization" of gentrified city neighborhoods ;-), where city blocks that once housed "viable businesses" like "small corner bistros, jazz clubs and gourmet bakeries" were being "razed to make-way for stable houses, servants' quarters and English gardens" ;-).

In the film, Johnny Depp plays the lead-role of Mortdecai, a really annoying "country gentleman," who still lives, with his wife Johanna (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), in a palatial estate somewhere in the rolling English countryside and makes his money, sort of, by "dabbling in the art market."   One could think of the movie as perhaps Mike Myers' Austin Powers [1997] meets Downton Abbey [2010-] ;-).

Mortdecai's life really could have been reduced to blithely arguing with his wife over his new and godawful mustache he's chosen to grow -- She resolutely refuses to sleep with him until he gets rid of the thing.  He "being English" / "principled" even when it makes no sense, has chosen "to prepare for the long siege" and "sleep out in the drawing room" until his wife "comes to see reason" ... -- if not "for another matter": THEY'RE BROKE, owing 8 million pounds in back taxes to "Her Majesty's Government."

But ... "as luck would have it," Martland (played by Ewan McGregor), MI-5, and once Mortdecai's Oxford roommate and still desperately in love with Johanna who he feels Mortecai had stolen from him -- why?, apparently because she found Mortdecai _slightly_ less boring than he ;-), and then, well, Mortdecai, was "of the right station / noble birth" afterall ;-) -- has a project for him:

He's to find a "lost Goya painting" on the back of which Hermann Goering had by legend scribbled a code that would lead one to a vast treasure of lost Nazi gold.

Previously, finding the lost painting had not been a big priority for MI-5. However, they had recently gotten word that a "terrorist" named Emil (played by Jonny Paslovsky) amusingly "with a different kind of mustache" -- think Che Guevara meets ISIS (remember that the original book was written in the 1970s when terrorists were of the more left-wing / "revolutionary" variety) -- had started to make inquiries about the lost painting (and the code leading to Nazi gold, scribbled on its back).

Mortdecai is thus tasked to find said painting before the Evil terrorist Emil got his hands on it.  Should he succeed, presumably his tax-debt "to the Queen's government" would be forgiven.  If he did not, well, Mortdecai's "unfortunate demise" would "(re)open the path" for Martland to Johanna's "heart" (as it were).

Was Mortdecai "up to the task?"  HE certainly thought so.  In reality ... (of course) not so much ;-). BUT he did have TWO allies to help him along: (1) Johanna (of course), who was always far smarter / more competent than either Mordecai or Martland, and then (2) Mortdecai's "man servant" (sort of a "squire"-like character) named Jock (played inspiringly by Paul Bettany) who, again, did pretty much everything short of breathing and eating and ... for Mortdecai anyway.

So then, much ensues ... ;-).

That which ensues ... leads the bumbling Mortdecai into encounters with not only the Che Guevara / Baader-Meinhoff Gang-like "Emil" but also (1) Asian underworld types like "Fang Fat" (played by Junix Inocian), (2) slippery art-dealers like "Spinoza" (played by Paul Whitehouse), (3) trying _really hard_ to act "civilized" Russian mobsters like "Romanov" (played by Ulrich Thomsen), (4) as clueless as "really old moneyed" Mortdecai but "nouveau riche" Hollywood producers like "Krampf" (played by Jeff Goldbloom) and (5) an ANCIENT "Rule Britannia" / Montgomery's "Desert Rat" (OMG why was HE still NOT dead yet?) British military officer known only as "Duke" (and played wonderfully by Michael Byrne).  There's even (6) a "Patty Hearst"-like character (played by Olivia Munn) in the story ;-)

All in all the story's actually pretty funny ... in a "For the 1%" hearkening back to The Great Race [1965] sort of way.  One gets the sense that someone like (19th century robber-baron...) Carnegie in particular would have LOVED this story.  And the performances were often very good.  In particular, Gwyneth Paltrow's Johanna and Paul Bettany's "Jock" were joys.

Still, like I've already said, the film's "not for everybody."  And I'm not really sure if I'd want a lot of Tony Curtis / Peter Sellers-like films like this to come back again.   BUT the film is _a lot better_ than many critics (above) make it out to be.  That's for sure ;-).  So ... see if you'd want to give a movie like this a shot ... ;-)

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