Mortdecai And The Horror Of Bad Adaptations – Look! It Moves By Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh writes:

(FSR:AA)January is when Hollywood studios release the movies they have no faith in. That they expect would bomb but hope to make at least a bit of money off of. Who knows, one movie might surprise them and actually become a hit.

Mortdecai is not that movie.


Like Blackhat last week, it's a huge bomb. Made for a budget of $60 million, it's only made about $4.6 million this past weekend.

Mortdecai might be the first movie I've encountered that's 100% miscast, 100% mis-written and 100% misdirected.

The original novels were written back in the 1970s by the eccentric Kyril Bonfiglioli, about posh art dealer and con man Charlie Mortdecai, his butler-cum-bodyguard Jock, and the farcically nasty capers he gets involved in. I read the books in college. They're very wry, very droll, sort of like PG Wodehouse gone horribly wrong. The main draw of the novels is they're narrated by Mordecai himself, a witty man with a clever and languid turn-of-phrase who's not necessarily very clever. They have a cult following in the UK. The Guardian explained best why the books are worth reading and better than the movie.

The problem with Mortdecai is a case of cast, writer and director all claiming they love the books, and then doing the opposite of whatever made the books interesting or good in the first place.

The tone of the movie is wrong. It should have been more naturalistic. It's not the desperate, campy, slapstick "Look at us! We're funny!" tone that immediately gets the viewer's back up.

And none of the cast or act look like how you would imagine they looked like in the books:

Mortdecai was a fat, lazy, sleazy and posh aristo who's a rogue and conman with some self-awareness, not the bug-eye, dandified Inspector Clouseau that Depp was playing. I thought Deep was channeling Terry Thomas and Peter Sellers, and lo and behold, he confirmed that in an interview with BBC Radio's Front Row. It's nice that he was having fun, but that's not the character from the books, and the books didn't make a big deal out of moustaches as an unfunny running joke.


His butler Jock was a hulk-ish Cockney thug eager for violence, not the pained, put-upon skinny guy who's smarter than his boss that Paul Bettany played.

Martland, the British secret service guy who blackmails Mortdecai into the caper plot was a smarmy, officious creep, but Ewan McGregor is too amiable and likable for the part, and the character has been softened into Mortdecai's frenemy when he was nothing of the sort in the books.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Mortdecai's wife is just… there.

The movie feels like a private party where a bunch of pals are having a great time together, but the rest of us are not in on the joke.

That a book is changed when it's adapted into a movie is no surprise. It happens all the time, and could been for a whole variety of reasons: they think it makes the story more appealing to general audiences, the ego of the screenwriter or director think they can do something better than the book did, the star wants to play the character in a particular way different from the book and so on. Hollywood just can't resist fixing stories even when they're not broken. There's actually nothing unusual about how Mordecai turned out. It's just another example of decadent filmmaking where a lot of money is spent to make a movie nobody really wanted. It ends up looking like another sign that movies are dying.

Moustache-free at

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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