Is Johnny Depp a movie star anymore? He is certainly famous, but he doesn’t have the box office clout he used to. The actor consistently does well internationally, but in the States, he hasn’t opened a major release in years, at least one that wasn’t already an established brand. Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, The Tourist, Dark Shadows and The Rum Diary all bombed here. Of course, the quality of those titles aren’t up there with his finer films, so that’s a slight hindrance. Maybe all Depp needs is simply a really good movie to win back moviegoers.
Reuniting with writer/director David Koepp is a step in the right direction. The two collaborated on 2004’s Secret Window, which is an especially good Stephen King adaptation. It’s also one of the last times Depp pulled off playing an average joe. For some reason he couldn’t do the same in The Tourist and Transcendence. There’s something very off about those performances. Maybe he’s been playing so many larger-than-life characters lately that an everyman no longer comes naturally to him.
Whatever the case, Mortdecai may be a return to form for the actor. Depp is once again playing a heightened character, but the difference this time is he looks genuinely funny as the oblivious art dealer Charles Mortdecai, a man in search of a stolen painting connected to a lost bank account full of Nazi gold. If you want to see Depp playing a “bit of a moron,” watch the teaser trailer for the film below.
That reaction shot at the end is a nice reminder of how funny Depp can be. His performance in Ed Wood is one of the all-time great comedic performances. He has terrific timing that hasn’t been well-utilized over the past decade. He’s funny in Rango, but when it comes to live-action, he hasn’t come close to his work in Ed Wood, Fear and Loving in Las Vegas and The Ninth Gate. What makes those characters stand out is that, no matter how silly they may act, they’re still people. In no way are they aware of how funny they are, making them all the funnier. That’s not the impression you get from his recent performances as Captain Jack Sparrow, Tonto or the Mad Hatter.
I’ve heard from several people who have seen Mortdecai that this is not another gimmicky performance from Depp. Lionsgate is hoping the movie, which is adapted from a trilogy by author Kyril Bonfiglioli, sparks a franchise. Based on everything I’ve been told, there’s a good chance of people falling in love with this character and also, hopefully, Depp again.
It’d also be a well-earned win for Koepp if the movie becomes a hit. The prolific screenwriter who worked on Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way, Death Becomes Her, Panic Room and Mission: Impossible hasn’t gotten his due as a filmmaker. His directorial efforts, Premium Rush, Secret Window and Ghost Town, are exceptionally entertaining movies. Hopefully the level of fun he brought to those pictures find their way into Mortdecai.
This is the kind of thing we seriously need more of. There’s a huge drought in slapstick and physical comedy these days. Fingers crossed Depp and Koepp deliver on potential comedy gold with their Blake Edwards-esque crime caper. Based on the buzz, this teaser and a helluva cast, they will.
Mortdecai opens in theaters February 6th, 2015.