MORTDECAI Blu-ray Review

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MORTDECAI looks and sounds great in this not-so-awful home release.

It goes without saying that Actor Johnny Depp’s menagerie of oddly-appointed characters are becoming fairly one-note.  But, are the days of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS a distant memory, never to return?  His newest project MORTDECAI did nothing to allay that fear among some, but its arrival onto home video gives the flop a chance at redemption.

Mortdecai-HiDefNinja (2)Depp plays the titular Charlie, a sheltered and privileged art dealer/collector/acquirer whose recent financial troubles and high lifestyle have him on the edge of bankruptcy.  Forced to to join MI-5’s Martland (Ewan McGregor) to find a priceless painting and the Nazi account numbers on its back. Charlie is ill-prepared for the James Bond action that is surely to come; but he’s also got wife issues to navigate, brought on by wife Johanna’s (Gweneth Paltrow) disgust at Charlie’s new curly mustache he’s been cultivating. But soon, both are off on a world-wide art-heist adventure, with Martland secretly cultivating a relationship of his own in Johanna.  With the Russians and an international terrorist at his heels, Mortdecai and his man-servant Jock (Paul Bettany) must root out the location of the missing Goyer painting using using Charlie’s unique style and rather questionable morals.

With just $7 million in box office receipts on a $60m budget, MORTDECAI might go down as one of the greatest high-profile flops of 2015, some of which is due to reasons beyond its control.  Poor critic response and a moviegoer obsessed with dark post-apocalyptic mayhem wouldn’t touch this thing with a Captain America shield.  But does that mean it’s bad?  Heavens no.  The movie knows that it’s a 60’s screwball comedy and makes its bed on old-fashion values that are missing from modern film.  There’s hilarious interludes between Depp and Paltrow, who herself paints an elegant (if not emaciated) English country aura, but whose sharp mind and quick wit saves her husband on several occasions from certain death.  There’s terrific chemistry between the two, including a should-be-classic scene as Johanna tries to get used to Mortdecai’s facial hair without yacking, and Mortdecai trying not to join her in the vomitous event. Betany is great as the bruiser with a libido the size of England, his lovemaker/baller status offering offering a nice contrast to the elegant daisy behind his boss.  McGregor slaps on the schlock quite well, doing his best Bond/Captain Kirk poses throughout.  He’s honestly not given as many funny lines as Depp or the others, but it’s great to see him play the straight-man MI-5 type with such conviction.

But this is Depp’s show, and to his credit he actually shines. Say what you want about his most current body of work, but here Depp is great.  He’s one of the best at inhabiting his roles, and here he excels at painting his character in fine brush strokes from the moment he arrives.  By the end of the first act, Charlie Mortdecai is a living, breathing British aristocrat who abhors modern society and its lack of convention.  Depp portrays the role with perfect English dandy elegance, as a man who runs like no one taught him to do so, whose mother probably protected him from local bullies, and whose taste for for fine food and liquor is only outmatched only by his ego. His disgust at visiting the American ‘colonies’ and referring to his hotel as a brothel – while Jock hooks up with girl #5 – feels real, making the comedy that much better.

The Bond/Penguins of Madagascar-esque soundtrack by Mick Ronson and Geoff Zanelli is flirtatious and even a bit forward-thinking, mixing 60’/70’s cheese with harpsichords and Aristo-funk (Zanelli’s words), and  setting an immediate tone for the film.  But what’s most enduing is the script by Writer Eric Aronson, who adapted the British novel “Don’t Point That Thing At Me” by Kyril Bonfiglioli.  It British humor might go over the average American moviegoer’s heads, but at least it’s not the low-brow dreck of THE WEDDING RINGER.  Sure, there’s plenty of adult humor boners and breast groping, but it’s all in good fun and used vehicles to move the script forward without overtaking it.  MORTDECAI doesn’t need to rip off Adam Sandler themes of old women having sex or male genitals exposed to make us laugh.

But let’s not kid ourselves: MORTDECAI will never reach the top of Mt. Olympus.  The characters are one-note (especially Munn’s), the script will be too English for some Americans, and there’s sequences that either go on too long are aren’t funny enough, but Director David Koepp’s luxurious vision will win you over regardless.  It’s more about exposing the incredibly sheltered life of Charlie, rather than a twisty, violent ending.  Which is why I must state the following with an emphatic slam of my fist: MORTDECAI didn’t deserve an R rating.  It’s silly and a bit sexual, but it’s nowhere in the realm of today’s shoddy in-your-face comedies.  That sort of rating can (and did) kill a film like this, essentially signing its death warrant with a dreaded January release. But society is enthralled with the ultra-violent, the superhero, and the fetish, and that’s not what MORTDECAI is; and with 2016 slathering on the superhero format, there seems to be little room (or interest) for this type of fun, slapstick comedy.

Don’t listen to the overly-stodgy critics about skipping this one: it’s a hilarious British caper that – dare I say – deserves its own franchise.

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If MORTDECAI the film is a failure to some, Lionsgate Films’ video transfer is anything but a disappointment. Offered in a flawless MPEG-4/AVC, this is one of the prettiest high def presentations I’ve seen this year. There’s the standard detail afforded most films (see our review of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY) and then there’s detail. As if emulating the elevated lifestyle of Charlie Mortdecai himself, the digital print starts off with immaculate detail in just about every facet, from the pores of Depp’s skin to the individual strands of hair on his bicycle mustache. The same treatment is afforded to everyone (and everything) here, with the well-appointed sets looking luxurious and the bevy of fine automobiles offering sharp details. The same can be said of the saturated color scheme, from the fine leathers and painted woods in Sotheby’s Art Auction House to the notched wood at Blackfriars Hall. Clothing on our actors show off fine detail, from Johanna’s riding boots to Charlie’s ascot and pocket squares. On some occasions, scenes of sky are blotted out, but in exchange we get better detail on our actors and sets. Throw this into a 4K setup and you’ll be gagging on Charlie’s mustache.

Mortdecai-HiDefNinja (8)Another surprising aspect of MORTDECAI’s home release is the vigorous DTS-HD Master 7.1 mix which provides consistent effects, music from Mark Ronson and Geoff Zanelli, and easy to hear dialogue. The left and right forwards offer a mix of music and sound effects, affording the listener a prime chance to hear motorcycles gliding from left to right, bullets popping, and car engines roaring to life. Although the surrounds get the low end of the deal here, they do spring to life in almost every scene, with a collection of airplane chit-chat, crowd noise, and other various copulatory effects. I would have liked a bit more from the rears, as they’re silent a bit too often. The score by Mark Ronson and Geoff Zanelli is pure Bond 60’s fun, but it’s more set-up music than a powerful heartbeat for the film. The LFE is on full display, thumping and pulsing its way throughout, as if it did not wish to be ignored. Overall, it’s a very good – but not great – submission to the release.

Mortdecai-HiDefNinja (9)Sadly, MORTDECAI’s supplements are its Achilles heel. What we’re given is enjoyable and even insightful to several aspects of the production; there just isn’t enough of them. At least they’re presented in HD:

  • Stolen Moments: On the Set of MORTDECAI (16:34): Cast members including Depp and Paltrow share their thoughts on bringing the book to life without completely busting up over the ‘vagina’ scene in the film. There’s lots of behind the scenes footage and plenty of the standard “I love working with them!” testimonials. But in listening to Depp’s passion for the project and the way he assembled most of the troupe, it’s clear his heart was in the right place.
    The Art of Noise: Making Music for MORTDECAI (12:25): Zanelli sits down to share, among other things, the current state of scoring that (sadly) favors less big themes and more accompanying pieces.  We learn how he and co-Composer Mark Ronson built the track that became Charlie’s theme.  This is a terrific 101 on building a score.
  • Theatrical Trailers: Teaser Trailer (1:23), Theatrical Trailer (2:33)

Our evaluation copy arrived with a DVD-less Blu-ray/Digital HD Combo and a standard, debossed slipcase. There is no interior artwork, and at the time of this posting we were not aware of any special editions. This portion of the release suffers greatly without a commentary track, which becomes the director’s only method to defend their work, especially when a film like this under-performs so impressively at the box office. Without it, we’re left to debate the director’s intent for a film that should have performed better.

Mortdecai-HiDefNinja (13)For those who’ve grown tired of the all the dark, negative films of the gritty, post-apocalyptic cinematic drudgery, MORTDECAI offers a pleasing, if not perfect, alternative. Its clean good-natured humor makes it an obvious choice for rental, but a purchase at this point is not recommended unless you’re a die-hard Depp collector. The home release looks gorgeous and sounds good, but its paltry Supplements simply won’t do. Perhaps Depp’s passion project was made in the wrong decade and might have fared better 10 years ago. But that doesn’t mean you should skip it. Check this one out as a rental to see if all the hatred against it was justified.

MORTDECAI is rated a very surprising R for some language and sexual material and has a runtime of 106 minutes.

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About the author

Besides being an ardent burrito eater and an exceptional sleeper, Matt shares in your passion for all things movies and Blu-ray. He also loves special editions and is known to triple-dip on command.