Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Mortdecai and Black Sea

Johnny Depp's sad career slide continues, Jude Law goes for the gold.

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Mortdecai
Lionsgate

Rather disappointingly, Mortdecai isn't the flaming catastrophe that its dreadful trailer seems to promise. Still, it's a mess, a failed comedy that's both frantic and leaden, and largely laughless. As a vehicle for Johnny Depp, coming off five years of duds like The Tourist, The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows, and The Lone Ranger, it's another dire misstep along the path of facile muggery and simpering self-regard.

The movie is based on a '70s cult novel by the late English writer Kyril Bonfiglioli, whose specialty was an updated take on the fusty brilliance of P.G. Wodehouse. Bonfiglioli's protagonist, Charlie Mortdecai (Depp's role here) is a dissolute British aristocrat whose fortune is running out. He's down to his last country estate and vintage Rolls, his marriage to the svelte Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) is collapsing, and he's compelled to take part in shady art dealings to make ends meet. When a priceless Goya goes missing, an MI5 officer named Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) calls him in to track it down. Accompanied by his faithful manservant—whose name, I'm afraid, is Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany)—Mortdecai soon finds himself pinballing from Oxford to Moscow to palmy Los Angeles in the revolving company of an art-smuggling auto mechanic (Paul Whitehouse), a demented revolutionary (Jonny Pasvolsky), and a wily nymphomaniac (Olivia Munn) and her billionaire father (Jeff Goldblum). There are also some mad Russians, a jowly toff described as "the rudest man in England," and a long-dormant Swiss bank account established by the Nazi art thief Hermann Göring.

The tone being striven for here is antic farce—something along the lines of mid-period Blake Edwards, possibly. Director David Koepp has failed to achieve it, though. Koepp, who wrote the unfortunate Indiana Jones fiasco Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, opens this movie with a scene involving Chinese mobsters in a Hong Kong nightclub that's lifted for no particular reason from the Shanghai opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He then spends the rest of the film trying to maintain our interest in the story's endless idiocy, which involves, among many other things, incessant banter about Mortdecai's silly mustache, which might have been ripped straight off the lip of Hercule Poirot. There's also dialogue that would defeat the most determined performer. Mortdecai observes that "kissing a man without a mustache is like eating an egg without salt." Reminded of his enormous back-tax bill, he says, "I had no idea I was so deep in Her Majesty's hole." When he turns up smashed in one scene, Martland hisses, "You're as drunk as a fiddler's bitch."

The movie has a swank production design, and some of the actors, especially Bettany, manage to rise to the low occasion. But Depp—one of the film's producers—is a sad sight, negotiating the movie's witless hubbub with a veddy-veddy English accent and a repertoire of inane facial tics that borders on vaudevillian. Unfortunately, this sort of self-indulgent miscalculation is nothing new in his latter-day career. But the man is such an inherently likable performer that we still hope he'll come to his senses, preferably soon. His vast reservoir of audience goodwill might be nearing depletion.

Black Sea

Black Sea
Focus Features

Kevin Macdonald's Black Sea is overloaded with narrative cargo. There's a sunken treasure (Nazi gold, the best kind), a cramped submarine in search of it (lots of squinty tension and infernal lighting), and an ornery crew (half Brits, half Russians, all at each other's throats). But there's also a tearful love story—sketched in gauzy flashbacks—and some awkwardly overlaid working-class economic resentments that might have been airlifted in from another kind of picture. These elements don't mesh as smoothly as you might hope, but the movie does offer some familiar claustrophobic pleasures, along with unexpected echoes of films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and even Aliens (there's a scheming corporate weasel onboard). The movie's often fun, but mostly just kinda.

Jude Law is convincingly crusty as a submarine pilot named Robinson, who has spent most of his life working in marine salvage. When the company by which he's employed abruptly lays him off, he curses the fat cats who run the world and have ruined the economy, and pines for his ex-wife, who left him to marry—what else?—some rich guy. Huddling in a pub with other jobless seamen, Robinson hears tell of a Nazi submarine that went down in the Black Sea back in the 1940s, bearing a payload of Reichsmarks now worth many millions of dollars. A wealthy American agrees to finance an expedition to retrieve this treasure from under the Russian fleet patrolling above it; in return, this mysterious moneyman wants a big slice of the action, and insists on sending along his landlubbing assistant, Daniels (Scoot McNairy). Robinson and his Russian pal Blackie (Konstantin Khabensky) assemble a crew, refurbish a rust-bucket sub, and are soon underway.

Macdonald, who also directed The Last King of Scotland and the newshound thriller State of Play, effectively cranks up suspense as the crew members, divided by linguistic comprehension, start butting heads, and the usual mechanical disasters proliferate. He also renders the digital depths through which the submarine passes with evocative eeriness, and in one long underwater sequence delivers some top-drawer thrills.

Unfortunately, while Ben Mendelsohn is a memorable wacko, there are too many other shipmates onboard to command full individual attention (and the most appealing of them disappears early on). The occasional spasms of violence are also problematic, motivated by nothing more than screenwriter Dennis Kelly's insistence that they transpire. And we can't help wondering, throughout, exactly how Robinson would expect to shift a large pile of gold bars off his ship without anyone casting covetous eyes upon them. 

This is nitpicking, of course. No one expects a genre movie to completely add up. But Black Sea would have benefited from a tighter script. Even the twisty ending doesn't really pull the movie together.

NEXT: How long can a traffic stop last? A few thoughts on the Rodriguez argument

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  1. I liked The Lone Ranger. So there.

    1. I liked Dark Shadows, so there.

      1. It’s watcheable. But actually inferior to the TV show, which had a lower budget and no Michelle Pfeiffer.

      2. No, you liked Eva Green, so there.

    2. I liked The Lone Ranger. So there.

      Me too. Not great, but a solid couple hours of entertainment.

      1. I had to apologize to a Depp fan for trashing Lone Ranger until I saw it. In my defense, the trailer was awful and misleading, but it seems as though the “Johnny Depp in kooky makeup again” complaint is so prevalent that it’s getting ahead of the movies.

  2. I daresay this will *not* placate sarcasmic.

    1. Only a woman with all the curves of an adolescent boy will do that.

  3. OK, fun’s fun, but this joke has gotten too far. Post the A.M. Links already!

    Look, I promise, just one more A.M. links, then I’ll quit.

  4. Who’s to blame? WHO’S TO BLAME!!??

  5. This Depp character…is he/she transgendered?

  6. This is not an acceptable substitute for Mourning Lynx.

  7. “and a wily nymphomaniac (Olivia Munn)”

    Well, if Olivia Munn plays a nymphomaniac, I don’t care what else Loder has to say. I’m still going to see it.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. I’ve been in lust with her since the days of Attack of the Show!. I wonder what Candace Bailey is up to. *drool*

      1. Jesus Christ, I forgot about Candace Bailey.

        The women on that show were absurdly good looking. I forget what her name is, but they also had that incredibly attractive blonde whose crazy good looks were slightly ruined by the fact that she had the worst, most annoying voice in the history of the human race.

        1. Sara Underwood. I always thought there was something fucked up about her face. Too much surgery.

          1. Her bio is great: Hooters girl, Playmate, dater of B and C list celebrities, went to school with Derek Anderson.

    2. A Munn/Bettany shower scene would appeal to a wide array of viewers.

    3. “Well, if Olivia Munn plays a nymphomaniac, I don’t care what else Loder has to say. I’m still going to see it.”

      Yes, that line sold me.

      1. I didn’t make it past that line. Was the rest worth reading?

  8. Oooo, Johnny Depp playing a quirky character, how unusual! Is Helena Bonham Carter in the movie too?

  9. Fun facts from the film’s Wikipedia page:

    Mortdecai has been panned by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 9%, based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 3.1/10. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 19 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating “overwhelming dislike”.

    And:

    On February 7, 2014, Lionsgate announced that they would be creating a franchise of the film.

    I think Lionsgate will quietly cancel those plans.

  10. I don’t really want to start a 1A thread in a Depp movie review post.. so where are those goddamn morning links?

    1. The Reason staff is not the government so you have no right to redress of grievances in your protestations of a lack of AM Links.

  11. Ray Davies told that story better in just three verses and a chorus.

    1. Lola?

      1. Lola is more a depiction of Johnny Depp’s off-screen life.

    2. Sunny Afternoon

  12. Thanks for these reviews. You saved me $12. One of the two movies gave a lot of free tickets out to a promotional viewing. Now I just have to decide if I also want to save that 2 hours.

    Ellen had Paltrow, Depp, and Bettany on this week and spent much of her time discussing Depp’s comic genius.

  13. my neighbor’s ex-wife makes $62 every hour on the computer . She has been out of work for five months but last month her paycheck was $18411 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this site

  14. my neighbor’s ex-wife makes $62 every hour on the computer . She has been out of work for five months but last month her paycheck was $18411 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this site……..
    ?????? http://www.cashbuzz80.com

  15. my roomate’s aunt makes $82 /hour on the laptop . She has been fired from work for eight months but last month her income was $21833 just working on the laptop for a few hours. view it……
    ?????? http://www.netcash50.com

  16. $89 an hour! Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening?And i get surly a chek of $1260……0 whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids.
    Here is what i did
    ?????? http://www.paygazette.com

  17. Films like Mortdecai are the natural consequence of an actor’s most successful role being an off-the-wall scenery chewer. HAving done it once, the actor is asked to do it again and again, either that character or something very like it, until his performance descends into self-parody.

    The First few Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies are fine and funny. After Return of the Pink Panther, the schtick took over and Seller’s Clouseau rapidly became far more annoying than entertaining.

    Hopefully Depp will stop playing variations on Jack Sparrow sometime soon.

  18. What slide? Depp has always been terrible.

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