Review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) lives on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia but longs to escape his life of petty theft under the control of a local crime boss that looks like a giant caterpillar. Han hopes to trade a sample of hyper-drive fuel called coaxium for passage off the planet for himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Just as they are walking through the gate Qi’ra is captured. In desperation, Han joins the Imperial Navy with a hope to become a pilot so he can return and save Qi’ra. Three years later Han has been kicked out of flight school for failing to follow orders and is an infantry soldier helping to conquer a planet. There he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who is pretending to be an Imperial officer so he and his gang can steal a heavy transport. Han recognizes they aren’t with the Empire and tries to blackmail his way onto their ship but they turn Han in as a deserter. Han is thrown in a pit where it is expected he’ll be consumed by a beast that turns out to be a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han speaks a little of Chewbacca’s native language and they form a plan to escape. Once out of the pit they jump on Beckett’s stolen transport joining his gang for the theft of a large shipment of coaxium. That heist is broken up by a gang of marauders called the Cloud Riders, the coaxium is destroyed and in the process a couple of Beckett’s gang is killed. Beckett tells Han he was ordered to steal the coaxium by crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) to pay off a debt and Vos will likely kill them for failing. While waiting to see Vos on his space yacht Han sees Qi’ra. She works for Vos and in their meeting to explain their failure she helps guide him to a solution to pay off their debt: Stealing raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel. Vos orders Qi’ra to go along and make sure everything goes smoothly. Knowing they will need a very fast ship to get the raw coaxium to a processing facility before it explodes Qi’ra hunts down legendary smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who has the fastest ship in the quadrant: The Millennium Falcon.

During the making of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the film was in the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons: The original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired deep into production when Lucasfilm executives were unhappy about the quality of daily footage coming from the set. Star Alden Ehrenreich was given an acting coach because his performance wasn’t what the executives wanted. The directors weren’t shooting enough angles of various scenes that give editors plenty to work with. Script writers Jonathon and Lawrence Kasdan were angry over Lord and Miller allowing the cast to improvise. Lord and Miller were unhappy when Lawrence Kasdan was brought on set as they felt he was a shadow director. Clearly something had to change and since Lucasfilm was the boss, Lord and Miller were let go but given executive producer credit on the film. Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, who has a long history with Star Wars creator George Lucas, was brought in to essentially start over. Much of what was filmed was scrapped and reshot adding tens of millions of dollars to the production’s budget. Would this be the first Star Wars film since the prequels to be considered just plain bad? The short answer is a qualified no. It’s qualified because you have to be willing to accept some things that I think most Star Wars fans are unwilling to accept: Alden Ehrenreich isn’t a young Harrison Ford; but I’ll get to that a little later.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” wastes no time in delivering the action as the first scene is a chase through the dingy back alleys of Corellia. Soon we’re transplanted to a battlefield on an alien world then we’re robbing a train on yet another planet. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t let the viewer get bored with any one location as the action is never in one place for very long. I enjoyed the planet hopping as the film tended to bog down whenever the action stopped and the acting kicked in. Fortunately that doesn’t happen that often.

Fans of the Star Wars original trilogy saga will find the most to enjoy in this film. We hear familiar names like Tatooine and Hutt and finally understand what “Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” means. We see the first meetings between Han and Chewie and Han and Lando. We see Han win the Millennium Falcon in the famous card game we heard about 35 years ago. The Falcon is all white and clean inside and there are more bits of Star Wars history that jump off the screen and into our childhoods that complete pictures we only could dream of. I’m not saying you have to have been a Star Wars fan since the original trilogy came out in theaters to appreciate “Solo: A Star Wars Story” but it helps.

The movie may actually lean a bit too heavily on nostalgia for its own good. While I enjoyed the way Han and Chewie became friends that friendship seems to develop too quickly and too deeply. The newer characters, with a couple of exceptions, are mostly cannon fodder that are quickly killed off despite being entertaining additions.

Then there is the problem of Alden. While he gives a perfectly fine performance he isn’t a young Harrison Ford and even when he’s being a selfish jerk there’s still a little bit of “aw shucks” in his demeanor. I never was able to forget Ehrenreich was playing a role where Harrison Ford was the role. I know it is unfair and impossible for Lucasfilm to have cast a young Harrison Ford impersonator as Han Solo but seeing someone else play the part was a constant irritant that kept me from fully investing in the film.

Yet I still enjoyed the movie. I suppose I’m easily entertained but watching the younger versions of Han, Lando and Chewie (all being played by different actors from the originals) was a huge amount of fun for me. Seeing the basis for many of the references I heard in theaters back in the 1970’s and 1980’s finally being brought to life was something of a thrill. While we know Han, Lando and Chewie will survive no matter how dire their situation might be and that cuts into the tension some, I want to see in future movies the contraband that Han had to dump that got him in trouble with Jabba the Hutt. I want to know if Han and Darth Vader ever crossed paths prior to A New Hope. There are more stories to tell about the life of Han Solo before he met a kid and a crazy old man in a cantina at Mos Eisley and I want to see them even if I have to overlook who is playing the young smuggler.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Chewbacca rips the arms off a guard. We only see him holding the arms not the actual ripping. We also see Chewie slam a guard head first into the ground. There are numerous battles involving blasters and people being shot by them. There are explosions that toss people around. Any foul language is said in an alien tongue.

Probably the most memorable scene in the film is one near the very end where a character makes a cameo appearance via hologram. I had to sit up in my seat and take a very close look at this character to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. For me, that scene alone was worth the two or so hours that preceded it and made me hope that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” makes enough money so we get another film telling us more stories about Han Solo. He might not make me forget about Harrison Ford but Alden Ehrenreich is the actor Lucasfilm and Disney chose to fill his seat at the controls of the Millennium Falcon and as long as they surround him with great visuals and exciting stories I’m willing to accept him for as long as he plays the part.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” gets four stars out of five.

This week three new films hope you’ve seen all the superheroes and space operas and spend your money on something else at the cinema. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Action Point—

Adrift—

Upgrade—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news on movies, TV and streaming entertainment. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website boxofficemojo.com, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—

Overboard—

Tully—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming entertainment news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

While raiding a HYDRA base in the small eastern European country of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s mind control scepter, the Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in the form of the Hulk, encounter the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen).  He possesses super speed while see can manipulate minds and emit energy pulses.  Their powers have been enhanced due to HYDRA experimentation that has killed all other test subjects.  The raid is ultimately successful and the scepter is recovered but Wanda plants the nightmarish image of all the Avengers dead in the mind of Stark.  This leads him to restart a program to create, in his words, a suit of armor around the world.  The Ultron program was stalled due to software issues but Tony believes he and Banner can use the mind-control stone in the scepter to rewrite the program and create an automated defense system.  Tony’s helpful computer program J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany) continues working on various configurations of the program and it comes to life.  Confused, J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to aid Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in understanding his existence.  Ultron quickly overwhelms J.A.R.V.I.S. and takes control of Tony’s robotics lab, creating a rudimentary body for himself.  Ultron has misinterpreted Tony’s intensions and decides the only way to protect the Earth is to destroy all human life.  During a celebration party in the Avenger’s tower, Ultron makes his presence known and attacks the team but they are able to defeat him; however, the program of Ultron escapes into the Internet and finds facilities to create more versions of himself.  Ultron also approaches the Maximoff twins about helping him destroy the Avengers.  The pair has a particular hatred for Tony as their parents were killed by weapons from Stark Industries.  They agree to help and the three, along with several robots, head to the African nation of Wakanda to meet with arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who possesses a huge amount of the super strong metal vibranium.  The Avengers show up as well and a major battle ensues.  Wanda is able to place spells on nearly all the Avengers and each is shown devastating images of either their past or their greatest fears.  Banner is transformed into an out of control Hulk causing him and Tony, in his Hulk-Buster armor, to battle and nearly destroy a Wakandan city.  The world is turning against them due to all the property damage they cause, the team is in shambles and questioning if they can still be an effective fighting force and if they can defeat Ultron.

If you see “Avengers:  Age of Ultron,” strap in and leave the large soft drink at the concessions stand as you are in for a 140 minute rollercoaster of action and special effects.  You may also want to bring ear plugs as the film is quite loud with all the metal clanking and various things exploding nearly all the time.  It is a visual spectacle that works well within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); however, if you are looking for meaning on a deeper level you may be disappointed.

The early trailers made it appear “Avengers:  Age of Ultron” would be a dark and serious affair.  That worry is unfounded as the trademark banter between the characters is fully on display even in more serious moments.  Each character has a chance to lighten the mood with the interplay between Stark and Rodgers delivering the most lighthearted moments.  Thor, Natasha, Barton and Banner also get opportunities to make the audience smile and chuckle.  Even the newly added Maximoff twins get a chance to throw off a quip.  It can’t be considered a full-on comedy but the film is much less dour than first looks suggested.

The quality of acting is about what you expect in any Marvel film but having Spader provide the voice of Ultron raises the quality of the villain’s performance.  James Spader gives Ultron a level of gravitas that might have been missing from another actor.  Ultron’s commanding baritone voice ringing with condescension, his ease in dancing verbal rings around Stark and the others and the cold calculation of his ultimate plan puts him head and shoulders above most other Marvel villains.  Plus, the robot Ultron is literally twice as tall as anyone on screen.  That physical dominance of the frame only adds to Spader’s voice acting.

The acting of Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo is put to the test in the film’s biggest flaw:  The will-they-won’t-they romance of Natasha and Banner.  While an unknown length of time has passed since “The Avengers,” the notion of these two becoming a couple seems a bit out of left field.  Perhaps this is writer/director Joss Whedon’s attempt to humanize these bigger than life characters.  Since we know very little of their lives outside of teaming up to fight a world-threatening evil, this might have been an effort to bring these demigods down to our level.  Quite frankly, it feels a bit tacked on.  Banner and Natasha are probably the two most dangerous members of the team.  She has been trained practically since birth to be an assassin and he fears he will hurt innocent people when he transforms into an out of control rage giant.  The two of them together strike me as a disaster waiting to happen.  It also doesn’t help that she was flirting with Rodgers in “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier” and in the comics has been romantically connected to him and Barton.  Of course, I don’t understand how anyone could turn down the affections of Natasha who is probably the sexiest woman in any of their lives, but that’s just me.  While the romance sections of the movie pay off by the film’s end, they tend to bring the story’s momentum to a halt.  They probably could have been incorporated in a different way to fit better within the narrative.

Then there’s the problem with all the Marvel movies and superhero films in general:  The concept of meaningful stakes for the characters.  So far, nearly every MCU film has followed a predictable pattern of a worldwide threat bringing out the hero or heroes, that threat nearly defeating the hero then with one final effort the hero wins.  Marvel has a slate of films mapped out over the next decade that involves these characters.  Since we know they will be around in 2018 for whatever sequel, where is the danger to the protagonist?  It simply isn’t there.  We know Iron Man, Captain America and the rest will live to fight another day since they have a contract calling for them to appear in however many more movies.  The only mystery is how the villain will be defeated and that’s not nearly as satisfying as truly being in doubt as to if the hero will survive the final attack.  This formula make get a shakeup in coming films as both Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans are nearing the end of their contracts.  Also, the next Captain America film is based on the comic book storyline of a battle between factions within the superhero community where not everyone survives.  The fiscal realities of increasing star salaries and actors desire to work on different projects may be what puts some real threat into the evil plans of the villains.

“Avengers:  Age of Ultron” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and some suggestive comments.  There are fights throughout the film between robots and Avengers, Avengers and Avengers and Avengers and others who are not robots or Avengers.  It is all fairly mild as film violence goes.  There is very little blood and no gore unless you count the robot guts that are displayed when one is destroyed.  During the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight, a building under construction is demolished, some people in an elevator are nearly killed and the Hulkbuster suit has a piston-action fist that repeatedly punches the Hulk in the face.  All the suggestive comments are between Natasha and Banner except for one ancient reference by Stark during the scene where each Avenger tries to pick up Thor’s hammer.  Foul language is widely scattered, very mild and used as the set up for a running joke.

The weirdness of business agreements between companies is on full display in the film.  In the comics, the Maximoff twins are the children of main X-Men villain Magneto; however, since Marvel sold the movie rights for the X-Men and the use of the term mutant to Fox, their heritage could not be mentioned.  You might wonder how the characters could be used at all.  It comes down to the fact that the pair has been in both the X-Men and the Avengers so the lawyers decided both companies could use the characters.  Clear as mud, right?  Then, here comes Spider-Man who had been the cinematic property of Sony but can now appear in both Marvel and Sony movies.  It is enough to make one’s head spin; but if the complicated storylines of superhero movies don’t induce vertigo then legal issues between movie companies should be a piece of cake.  What does this have to do with whether “Avengers:  Age of Ultron” is worth your time and money?  Nothing, I just thought it was interesting.  Since most Marvel movies are critic proof, it really doesn’t matter what I think.  I will offer this one bit of advice:  Don’t pay for the 3D.  There is a few times it makes items on screen really pop out but most of the time it is hardly noticeable.  See the standard version and enjoy the ride with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  It isn’t art but it’s fun.

“Avengers:  Age of Ultron” gets five stars.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Just a couple of new films this week and both are comedies.  Maybe I’ll review one of them or maybe it’ll be another film.  Stay tuned.

D Train–

Hot Pursuit–

Review of “Mortdecai”

Lord Charles Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is an art dealer who doesn’t mind bending the rules and dealing with the underbelly of the fine art trade. Married to the lovely Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), Mortdecai is eight-million British pounds in debt with back taxes and must find a big payday within a few days. Meanwhile, a painting by Goya is being cleaned by a restorer when she is killed by an international terrorist named Emil Strago (Jonny Pasvolsky) who steals the painting. As he escapes, he is struck by a baseball bat and knocked unconscious. The painting is then stolen from Strago. Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) of MI-5 approaches Mortdecai about helping find the painting. He is reluctant but agrees in exchange for a fee. Aiding Mortdecai in his investigation is his manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) who also serves as his bodyguard. Several leads are followed that put Mortdecai and Jock in peril as Strago is still looking for the painting as well as a Russian mobster named Romanov (Ulrich Thomsen). As they are running around the world, Johanna is using Martland’s affection for her to get information and conducting her own investigation. She talks with an elderly former British army officer who tells her the painting in question has a secret Swiss bank account number on the back. The account belongs to a high ranking Nazi official and could contain hundreds of millions of dollars. Mortdecai figures out the painting is actually a lost Goya that has been the stuff of art world legend for years. It is hidden under what can be seen on the surface and is only visible using UV light. Adding to the stress of the situation, Mortdecai has grown a mustache that Johanna hates. Every time she kisses him it makes her gag and he gags in sympathetic response. Between the debt, the gallivanting around the world, the threat of violence from several quarters and the mustache, the marriage of the Mortdecai’s is approaching collapse.

Just before I saw “Mortdecai” I checked its score on Rotten Tomatoes. At that time it had a 12% rotten rating. There are very few positive reviews of the film and those that are mildly positive have several reservations about the movie. Naturally, I entered the theatre prepared to have an awful time and then write a scathing review. As I exited, I wondered what all the vitriol was about. While it isn’t a spectacular success it isn’t the monumental pile of crap you might expect with such a low score. The real question is: What’s up with Johnny Depp’s career choices lately?

“Mortdecai” is a mess story wise. It jumps from location to location and introduces characters that then disappear for big chunks of time only to show up again for a few seconds then once again disappear. The movie is stuffed with characters and it makes it nearly impossible to keep up with who is who. Some streamlining of the story would have helped a great deal, allowing the plot some time to breathe and give us more time with the main players. As it is now, watching “Mortdecai” is akin to trying to read a book while jumping on a pogo stick. I think the script writers wanted to complicate the story to give it more of a feeling of a farce. Sadly, they lack the skills to juggle that many storylines simultaneously and the narrative suffers for it. While I have no evidence to support it, this movie has the feel of one that was being rewritten on the fly.

I can’t fault the cast for this as they are doing the best they can with what they are given. Depp once again buries himself into a character with a distinctive feature—his mustache. Depp excels in finding a hook into a character and coming to life once that makeup is applied. Mortdecai’s nervous tics, his grunts and groans of frustration, his air of superiority all probably started with the mustache. If the movie has a surprise performance, it is from Paul Bettany. Bettany often shines with comedic gold at various times in the film. His much put upon manservant is tolerant of all his master’s foibles, weaknesses, cowardice and poor skills with weapons that frequently get Jock injured in some way. Bettany drops in one liners and snide comments from time to time offering a glimpse into their relationship. Gwyneth Paltrow shows she can be funny in “Mortdecai.” The running gag about gagging is handled with skill by both her and Depp. Her conversations with Mortdecai, showing she is in charge in the relationship, often have a decent laugh embedded in the dialog. Paltrow’s performance is more about style than substance with her aristocratic air and decent British accent adding a layer of elegance that plays well against Depp’s mustachioed man-child.

The rest of the cast doesn’t come off nearly as well with Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Munn and Ewan McGregor all wasted in minor roles that are under written and under-utilized. McGregor gets the most screen time of the secondary players. His character is there mostly to move the plot along at certain times. Inspector Martland is also something of a metaphorical punching bag for Mortdecai as Martland was in love with Johanna in college and he thinks there may still be a chance of a relationship. Mortdecai likes rubbing his marriage to Johanna in his face while Johanna doesn’t mind using his puppy love as a way to get information. McGregor deserves a better character than this.

“Mortdecai” is rated R for sexual material and some language. The sexual material is mostly of the comic variety with no nudity. Foul language is scattered.

While “Mortdecai” has a decent number of laughs it doesn’t have enough given the goofiness of the story. The movie wants to be a farce in the style of the Pink Panther films (the ones with Peter Sellars, not Steve Martin) and the 1972 film “What’s Up, Doc?” with Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. It falls well short of the mark and would need a major retooling to approach those classics. Sadly, the movie is both a critical and financial flop, the third of Depp’s recent films to tank (following “The Lone Ranger” and “Transcendence”). The question of if this string of failures will hurt Depp’s career has been asked recently. Depp probably isn’t taking jobs because he needs the money but because he likes the project. He’s recently finished shooting a new film with Kevin Smith called “Yoga Hosers” and appeared in Smith’s last movie “Tusk.” Depp was the best thing about “Tusk” and will likely be the best thing about “Yoga Hosers.” Knowing Smith’s movies cost less to make than Depp’s usual salary tells me he takes on jobs that appeal to him. So, do three major flops in a row mean Depp’s career as a leading man is in trouble? I don’t think so. If he works on what he likes it won’t matter if they make a ton of money or not, and “Mortdecai” will not make anywhere near its $60-million budget. If you just love Johnny Depp and can’t imagine not seeing his film in the theatre then by all means go see it. If you think you can wait, watch it on Netflix or on DVD.

“Mortdecai” gets three stars out of five and that’s probably a bit generous.

Maybe the next movie I see will be better. I’ve got four to choose from.

Black or White—

Cake—

The Loft—

Project Almanac—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.