There was a time when I would have been envious of your position above Johnny Depp’s lip. He was the dark, brooding bad boy to all the cookie-cutter, L.A. heartthrobs manufactured in the 80s. Depp made me actually hope a hot narc would show up at my high school. But as I followed his career, it was his film choices that made me a real admirer. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, and Dead Man set him apart from his contemporaries who seemed to be chasing blockbuster stardom. The zenith of Depp’s oddball sensibility was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Depp, Hunter S. Thompson and Terry Gilliam - three fearless creative geniuses and their collective madness represented in one filthy, Rube Goldberg-device of a film. I was in movie nerd-vana. Depp was the undisputed King of Quirk.
But every empire must fall.
You must know you weren’t Depp’s first faux facial hair. Since the Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon, Depp has increasingly made a habit of taking on roles that require him to wear makeup, wigs, and any number of piercings, contact lenses, and false probosci. It’s as if he’s purposely seeking out films that will put him in the makeup chair for at least five hours. There used to be a time when Depp merely being in a film would be the defining reason for me to see it. That Black Pearl has sailed. If I wanted to see a guy who used to make my labes sweat, poncing around in a garish costume and affecting a ludicrous accent, I’d go to my ex-boyfriend’s annual Halloween party.
Consider this a Dear John’s Moustache letter.
It’s not enough for Depp to merely wear these ridiculous get-ups, now they have to be written into the script. Depp is the titular Lord Charlie Mortdecai in Mortdecai. A self-described part-time rogue (?), Charlie is in danger of losing Mortdecai Manor to back-taxes. His expertise as an art dealer makes him the unwilling partner of the MI5 in trying to retrieve a stolen painting that may have the code to a Swiss bank account containing lost Nazi gold. Charlie must work with Inspector Martland, a former schoolmate, who just happens to be desperately in love with Charlie’s wife Johanna, played by a glowing Gwynneth Paltrow. Johanna, who has just returned from a trip abroad, is confronted by you, the moustache Charlie has proudly cultivated in her absence. But Johanna refuses all intimacy with Charlie unless he gets rid of you.
I have nothing against you personally. I love silly disguises and madcap romps. The Pink Panther series, the Austin Powers trilogy, the Carry-On movies all celebrate stupidity yet somehow manage to be clever despite themselves. No one could accuse these caper comedies of delivering the sly wit of Oscar Wilde, but they at least aspire to some measure of winking camp. _Mortdecai is a movie for Adam Sandler fans who lift their pinkies when they sip their Bud. Double-entendres are too high-falootin’ for this crowd. Johanna and Charlie argue about whether you make his mouth look like a vagina, or like the hair above a vagina. A literal running gag involves you making Johanna gag when she gets close to you which in turn engages Charlie’s sympathetic gag reflex. A-List actors saying vagina! And gagging! Trenchant.
I must admit it was hard for me to take my eyes off of you. In some scenes it looked as though you were fuller on one side, and then sometimes that side seemed thinner. But I never would have noticed had the droning exposition—often coming from right beneath you—not been delivered so blandly. Most caper comedies understand the need to pepper their expository scenes with sight gags. Nothing brings what should be a fun heist flick to a dead halt like two poorly lit actors sitting opposite each other reading out the plot scenario. Instead, Depp’s ersatz British patois (“Righto, old bean!”), and incessant warblings are supposed to be enough to engage us. After the fifth time, I stopped counting how often I checked my watch. If someone only had two hours to live, I’d recommend watching Mortdecai. It would feel like an eternity.
Despite the vomit scenes, spit-takes and an unnecessary erection visual, Mortdecai is harmless buffoonery with a couple of bright spots. Paul Bettany as Charlie’s valet, Jock is a slightly kinder, gentler version of the sociopath he played so deliciously in Gangster No. 1. He seems to know he’s too good for this drivel but mugs gamely anyway. A scene when you are in an elevator with a bunch of L.A. hipsters is decidedly on the nose, and every so often, the script offers up a crackerjack line that made me sad that the rest of the film couldn’t rise up to meet it, even halfway, for more than a minute or two.
I wish I could see Depp’s unadorned face more often. I miss the days when he was more enamoured with building strange characters from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. I’m glad, though, that you got second billing in all of Mortdecai’s confounding promotional material. You deserve the recognition. Depp may have carried you, but you carried the movie, and it must have been exhausting. Now it’s time for you to relax in the comfort of your home, aka the box that Mr.Potato Head came in.