Johnny Depp: A Career Intervention

As 'Mortdecai' flops, we take matters into our own hands

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It’s not looking good is it? We won’t bring up the reviews, but Johnny Depp’s latest camper-than-tent-pegs romp Mortdecai looks to be D.O.A.

The trailer didn’t help (sample Johnny Depp dialogue upon finding himself on the bonnet of a speeding car: “I’m on the bonnet!”). Nor did the bizarre marketing campaign featuring everyone from Ewan McGregor to Gwyneth Paltrow sporting a “Mortdecai moustache”.

[Above: Mortdecai's promotional material]

The questions this campaign failed to address were “who the hell is Mortdecai?” and, more importantly, “why the hell should we care?”

The first answer is that the character comes from a series of light crime capers written by the late Kyril Bonfiglioli.

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No, us neither.

The second question – why anyone should care about the film – is relevant only in that it marks the nadir of what has already been a spectacularly bad run of films for Depp.

His recent output: Into The Woods, (Depp as a wolf in a zoot suit) Transcendence (Depp as a belligerent, 2014 version of the Microsoft Paper Clip) Dark Shadows (In which Depp acted like a twelve year-old just discovering Eva Green’s breasts) is enough to make you want to sit him down, take off that cowboy hat, remove those blue-tinted sunglasses and unwind that array of scarves from around his neck, then force him to take a long look in the mirror.

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After that run, someone needs to get Depp’s agent on the phone.

Perhaps now’s the time for Depp to break his rule about never watching his own material. Maybe he should send Amber away for the weekend, stock up on popcorn and rent The Lone Ranger, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride on Netflix. Maybe then he’ll finally see what we’ve been seeing.

It’s hard to believe right now, looking down the barrels of Mortdecai and an Alice In Wonderland sequel scheduled for 2016, but back before he had ever heard of “Captain Jack Sparrow”, and just before Tim Burton had cast him in Sleepy Hollow, Depp had potential to become one of the greatest actors of his generation.

[Above: Depp with Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco (1997)]

Think back to his understated, fragile performance in Dead Man. Recall his ultra-cool to ultra-touching, generation-spanning performance as drug dealer George Jung in Blow. Remember his triumphant turn as the bat-country-defying, American-dream-hunting Raoul Duke in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

Each performance was considered and skillfully handled and each brought something new to the table. Despite his dual role as a “celebrity” Johnny Depp was still first and foremost an actor.

Let’s be honest, things haven’t been right for a while. Most of us have to think back to 2009’s Public Enemies for a Johnny Depp film we actually enjoyed (a mediocre film with great suits – a review which is also applicable to 2011’s The Rum Diary).

But watching Depp as John Dillinger – the infamous, bank robbing cinephile – almost made sense. Here was one of the biggest stars in the world, practically winking at the audience as one of the biggest outlaws in history. In that role he machine-gunned the cult of celebrity, exploiting his own fame to add another layer to the performance.

After that you have to wonder what led Depp (who once directed himself as a Native American, agreeing to star in a snuff film to raise money for his poverty-stricken family) to don the false teeth, the orange wig and the fuchsia lipstick of Alice In Wonderland? Or cameo in Adam Sandler’s universally detested Jack And Jill? (currently 3% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).

Let’s hope that Depp’s cameo in this year’s London Fields was more than an excuse to spend more time with co-star Amber Heard. Let’s hope that Black Mass (in which Depp plays real-life Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger) will be more Donnie Brasco than The Tourist.

Please, in the name of quality cinema, let Mortdecai be the end of this mid-career slump. Please let Johnny stop making films based on what the wardrobe department can offer and go back to actually reading the scripts. Right now we’ve got our fingers crossed for something, anything, to remind us that Johnny Depp still has it, before we have to sit through Pirates Of The Caribbean 5.



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