The case of terrible January dump movies, file #407: Charlie Mortdecai’s art caper.
It is well-known movie lore that every January sees the release of a half-dozen or more horrible, wretched, vile movies that studios greenlit, financed, and then realized had absolutely no business being heaved onto the people of the world outside of contractual obligations.
Mortdecai was one of those movies.
Recently, since about 2014 or so, every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, we have seen huge blockbusters make their stand in the middle of January, proving that no time of the year is impervious to big releases, as long as audiences care about the movies. And even still, we get misfire horror, would-be Oscar failures, and confusing nonsense thrillers, a mishmash of various flops released under the term January Dumps.
Because these movies are almost universally flops abandoned by studios, we have seen some extremely interesting failures released by way of January Dump. Strange Magic was an animated musical produced by George Lucas before he sold Lucasfilm, extremely odd and unlike any CGI animated movie released by a major Hollywood studio in recent years. Serenity (2019) is a piece of cinematic madness, a thriller that is so hammy, so cheesy, that my words cannot do justice to it (please watch this movie). Movie 43 is probably the most infamous January Dump, an anthology film filled with A-level talent and Z-level content, apparently created almost entirely through actors owing favors to the producers. There’s so many other examples, too. Monster Trucks in 2016, The Green Hornet in 2011, even the Teacher’s Pet movie in 2002… January is a month where studios release big flops because there’s nowhere else to put them.
Then we come to Mortdecai, an extremely ill-advised, poorly reviewed comedy starring Johnny Depp, Gwenyth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Jeff Goldblum, and Paul Bettany. To say that this movie would end up a huge bomb is to say that Hands Held in the Snow would end up with the main characters kissing. It was simply an inevitability.
The movie is about Johnny Depp as Charlie Mortdecai, a dapper dunce and an art thief who has fallen on hard times. He gets involved in some Nazi Gold plot as he bumbles around while his extremely loyal sidekick Paul Bettany and level-headed wife Gwenyth Paltrow fix everything behind him. It’s like a feature-length Hong Kong Phooey movie, but everyone has fake British accents and Johnny Depp has an iconic, idiotic mustache.
The perfect recipe for some bad movie watching. I went to see this expecting something dreadful. It sounded terrible and the best kind of terrible.
Honestly, though… I kinda liked it.
It’s pretty damn funny, and silly without being crass. It’s the kind of R-rated comedy they never make anymore, where there’s swearing and references to sex, but nothing that’d really prevent an older kid from watching it. The movie is nothing too special, but it’s well-made for sure. Johnny Depp’s ridiculous performance is classically stupid, but it’s a good performance! And Ewan McGregor’s character is hilarious.
I don’t get why it was savaged so badly by critics. Maybe just general hate for Johnny Depp? Who even knows…
Well, I did eventually grow something of a minor ironic interest in Mortdecai thanks to this. I kinda liked the movie, but it was a mega-flop that everyone hated. It’s already forgotten, so referencing it is even funnier to me.
I will never understand why Mortdecai was funded and released, but I am glad it was, because now I can be the world’s only Mortdecai fan.
Now, if you want to know a bad movie that truly does deserve its reviews and in the best way, never forget that Cats was greenlit, funded, shot, and released, and not only released, but done so in a prime Oscar Bait timeslot. They thought it would win awards. They thought Cats would win awards. Not even Charlie Mortdecai thought he would win awards.