Peter Sellers once hosted an episode of The Muppet Show, and true to form he was all about characters and goofy makeup and costumes. Sellers loved playing dress up, and come the end of the 1970s, it seemed like he was becoming indefinable, inhuman even to some. Kermit the Frog asked Sellers what gave with all the props and costumes. After all, Sellers was speaking in Victorian English and wearing a Viking helmet and girdle for next to no reason. Sellers answered Kermit, probably more tellingly than he would’ve cared to admit: “There is no me. I don’t exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.” That makes sense when looking at a character actor, devoid of human personality. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Maybe it’s prop comedy.
Look at Johnny Depp since 2003.
What if there is no Johnny Depp anymore, just a series of wigs and fake hair populating a long-deceased human? He was surgically removed by Disney to play Jack Sparrow, and he hasn’t truly come back to humanity ever since.
Yes, that’s just silly, but so is Depp’s latest concoction: Charlie Mortdecai. He’s a hapless bon vivant, an irritating aristocrat, and a guy who makes a lot of annoying noises and screams whiny things like, “I don’t like it!” There’s nary a shred of actuality in this persona. It’s all about a running gag mustache and a bad Terry Thomas impersonation for Depp this year as he sinks further into his wig party abyss.
What could possibly give Depp reason enough to populate this persona? A stolen Francisco Goya painting, that’s what. In addition to being opulent and eccentric, Charlie’s an art enthusiast and expert. He’s also roughly £8 million in debt, living wildly beyond his means in a grandly lavish mansion, stuffed with maximal decoration and frilly art works. Nobody needs a painting of an English bulldog with Winston Churchill’s head on it, unless you’re Charlie Mortdecai and need kooky crap to telegraph to the audience just how wacky and English you are. Despite the gobs of quirk heaped on Depp, there’s a caper afoot were Mortdecai’s called by MI-5 to seek out the missing Goya.
Red herring after curious scenario ensues, and Johnny Depp bounces around like, well, a jackass while other fading (and likely now inexpensive) stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor try not to look Mortde-fied.
Mortdecai exists in some sort of post-swinging ’60s universe. It’s like a vomitorium of In Like Flint, James Bond flicks, and any number of bad and forgettable Peter Sellers comedies. David Koepp (writer of Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and other billion-dollar grossing scripts) directs the movie like someone who did YouTube clip research or just thought Austin Powers is still funny. It’s not a matter of authenticity that bogs down Mortdecai, but inattentiveness. Koepp lets his Mortdecai do and say whatever he wants, with little to no discipline for comic timing or creative plotting. Again, it feels like a series of bad impersonations, or clumsily staged moments, and the whole production just feels wrong, forced to exist for the sake of some weird in-joke about an English character who nobody seems to like. Mortdecai isn’t all that funny, quick-witted, or even that interesting. It’s yet another misunderstood outsider, fish-out-of-water, unreal, and oblivious hero scenario for Johnny Depp. Mortdecai’s harmless, but still pretty annoying. Now let us never speak of that mustache ever again so that Depp may learn. And re-humanize.