Monday, 26 January 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1213: Floptopsy - Mortdecai

Poor Johnny Depp, his box office record outside of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise is not only less than stellar, it downright sucks donkey balls, and even the Pirates movies have become so expensive, they can't make money at the box office, instead have to rely on TV airings and merchandise to turn a profit.

Depp's latest movie Mortdecai is what's lying on my floptopsy table, waiting for me to dissect it to find a cause of death. So let's fire up the metaphorical bone-saw and get going.

First, let's do a preliminary examination, that'll give you the basics.

Mortdecai was a comedic caper film, a genre you don't really see very much these days, and loosely based on the works of British comic author Kyril Bonfiglioli. In it Depp plays Charlie Mortdecai, a shady art and antiques dealer who gets involved in all sorts of mayhem over money.

Bonfiglioli, a huge fan of PG Wodehouse, created the character, and his manservant Jock Strapp, as mirror-parodies of Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. Where Wooster gets into trouble because he's always trying to do the right thing, Mortdecai gets into trouble because he's always doing the wrong thing.

Now let's see where things went wrong.

1. QUALITY. The reviews for Mortdecai were pretty dreadful, earning a Rotten Tomatoes score of 12%, ouch. Right now the audience is hungry for heroes. Superheroes, war heroes, it doesn't really matter, as long as they get out their and do the right thing.

That's not to say that the audience won't accept an anti-hero, but there's a catch when you're trying to sell an anti-hero, you have to make the movie GREAT! Especially in a comedy, you need to deliver a high laughs-per-scene count, the story must be really complex and interesting, and the character must be if not likeable, downright fascinating.

The critics told the world that Mortdecai was none of those things, and the ad campaign seemed to agree, so let's take a look at the...

2. MARKETING. Like I said, selling a caper-comedy with a shady lead is a tricky thing. It seems the Lionsgate marketing department knew that too, and decided to skip pitching the story and the humour and made the ad campaign all about…

Don't believe me?

They have a whole series of posters where they photoshopped the moustache on the different cast members. 

Now the marketing gurus who came up with that idea no doubt dragged out Willy Wonka and Jack Sparrow and said: "Look, Depp's wacky outfits and make-up mean boffo box-office, and him looking like Terry Thomas is going to have us rolling in dough!"

But there's a catch.

Both Wonka and Sparrow starred in movies aimed at kids.

Try to sell a crazy outfit, makeup, and affectation combo to an audience over 12, and you're shit out of luck. Just look at the Lone Ranger.

Then there's the hype they put on his costar Gwyneth Paltrow. Sure, Mortdecai's relationship with his long suffering wife is important to the plot, but when it comes to selling tickets Paltrow is the white Nicole Kidman. Not only is she unable to carry a movie with the general audience, she's best known for dispensing scientifically laughable advice in the most smug condescending and incredibly self-unaware way possible.

That ain't gonna put bums in seats.

3. COMPETITION. Like I said at the beginning, the audience is currently craving heroes and heroics. Which means that the movie that Hollywood didn't want to make Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, is currently having Summer Blockbuster level box-office in the middle of what is supposed to be a dead period.

That means the best you can get is a distant second, and even then you need either to bring your A-Game, or have some sort of tacky hook that might bring in people at the cineplex, like a still-good-looking Jennifer Lopez doing a statutory rape turned Fatal Attraction fantasy, but even that is only pulling in about 1/4 of Sniper's business.

That's a little too brutal for a badly marketed weak movie to survive.

I think we've found the cause of death.

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