Once you get past the sheer gall of “Funny or Die” putting together a 50-minute send-up of Donald Trump — starring a near-unrecognizable Johnny Depp, no less — the kick of “Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie” begins to quickly yield diminishing returns. For those shaking their heads in disbelief over the mogul/reality TV star’s new-found career in politics, however, just soaking in Depp’s mannerisms and dead-on impersonation, along with the various celebrity cameos, will probably be compensation enough.
Dropped the day after Trump’s Republican primary win in New Hampshire, the not-quite-film was certainly shrewdly timed. Yet the actual product, directed by Jeremy Konner and written by Joe Randazzo, hews a little too closely to Will Ferrell’s TV movie parody “The Spoils of Babylon,” down to the fact that Trump — the supposed producer, writer, director and star of what Ron Howard introduces as a lost 1980s masterpiece — splashes his own name across every conceivable credit.
The framing device involves a young boy shoplifting Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” only to wind up face to face with the man himself. Trump (as played by Depp) proceeds to lecture the kid on the finer points of his take-no-prisoners philosophy, in the midst of his fervent negotiations to buy the Taj Mahal (the hotel, not the actual landmark) from Merv Griffin (Patton Oswalt).
Along the way, Trump breaks down chapters from the book, and more unflattering aspects of his biography, telling the kid that he only discriminates against people “based on how they affect property values.” Later, when ALF appears (yes, that ALF), Trump calls him “the only illegal alien that I love.”
Other than skewering Trump, both personally and politically, this is obviously a rather slim construct. And while Depp throws his all into perhaps his hammiest role since Jack Sparrow, it probably would have benefited from a bit less length and a tighter focus, balancing as it does plenty of sly asides about Trump’s political future with satirizing the bad old days of TV movies, which, in the funniest beats, includes replacing the kid halfway through, and an honest-to-gosh power ballad from Kenny Loggins. (Michaela Watkins could have used a bit more time, too, given her hilarious impression of Trump’s first wife, Ivana.)
Of course, given how polarizing Trump has become during the current campaign, mocking him in this fashion amounts to preaching to the liberal choir. That’s not to say this featurette doesn’t have its moments, only that in this case less really would have been more — a criticism that feels more like a note for the next time, frankly, than a deal-breaker.