The Hollywood elite’s stalkerish obsession with the English aristocracy takes a peculiar new turn in this off-key, globetrotting action comedy. Johnny Depp plays the title character, a hereditary peer complete with a mansion near London, a manservant and a not entirely convincing Terry-Thomas accent, who carries out a little art-world espionage on the side.
Set on the trail of a missing Goya by policeman and love rival Martland (Ewan McGregor), Mortdecai and his prim lady wife (Gwyneth Paltrow, inevitably) travel the world sipping cognac, sneering at the locals and staying one step ahead of a gang of Russian thugs.
Contrary to appearances, ‘Mortdecai’ isn’t a total disaster: Depp may be suffering the most catastrophic career slump since Eddie Murphy said yes to ‘Norbit’, but he’s still perfectly watchable. The script, meanwhile, offers up a small handful of decent gags, and there are just enough pratfalls and wacky cameos (Paul Whitehouse! Jeff Goldblum!) to drag us through the boring bits.
But as the plot ties itself in ever more uninteresting knots, a nagging question remains: who is ‘Mortdecai’ for? It’s not thrilling enough for the multiplex crowd and not funny enough to work as out-and-out comedy. The aristocratic in-jokes are sure to alienate US audiences, while Brits will be put off by the sheer relentless fakery of it all. It’s hard to escape the suspicion that the only people sure to enjoy ‘Mortdecai’ are Depp, Paltrow and perhaps Tim Burton and Madonna.