A noted art restorer has been murdered in her studio, a legendary Goya masterpiece is missing, and a hirsute terrorist is about to use Nazi loot to unleash a wave of homicidal violence. Who ya gonna call? Well, since Inspector Clouseau and Mr. Bean appear to be on sabbatical, England's MI5 turns to Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp), an unscrupulous art dealer with underworld connections. Protected by his oversexed manservant Jock (Paul Bettany, playing Jason Statham), Mortdecai bumbles Magoo-like around the globe, maintaining inebriated equanimity as he evades scrotum-shocking Russkies while thwarting frenemy Inspector Martland's (Ewan McGregor) intentions toward Charlie's wily, winsome wife, Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow).
At this point in his career, Johnny Depp's characters are most easily distinguishable not by personality, but by facial hair. In Mortdecai, he's intoxicated almost as often as Jack Sparrow and nearly as narcissistic as Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd put together. His absurdly coifed mustache becomes the film's standout supporting player, serving as a plot-driving tritagonist, thanks to Johanna's revulsion toward it (one of the film's surprisingly vulgar gags). Depp is dependably endearing, despite his character's irritating affectations, and the all-star secondary cast (including Jeff Goldblum as an amoral art collector and Olivia Munn as his nymphomaniac daughter) acquit themselves without embarrassment; Bettany's ability to take a beating becomes a highlight.
The issue with Mortdecai is that director David Koepp (Stir of Echoes, Premium Rush) and his cast are obviously expending great effort to appear effortless, trying unsuccessfully to combine the lighthearted fleetness of classic caper comedies with overworked Wes Anderson-lite quirk. The script, by sophomore screenwriter Eric Aronson and based on novelist Kyril Bonfiglioli's novel Don't Point That Thing at Me, gives Depp some witty quips, but it's mostly mired in a sophisticated/sophomoric muddle. It's as if the movie is trying to simultaneously be The Thomas Crown Affair and Austin Powers, but settles for Hudson Hawk. Add a Temple of Doom-aping prologue and hyperkinetic Moulin Rouge-esque transitions, and you have a movie trying too hard to do too much with too little. It isn't a complete train wreck, thanks to the charms of the cast and some spectacular setting, but even Depp diehards are unlikely to fall in love with his latest effort.
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