February 05, 2009

Pink Panther 2, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Pink Panther 2, The

COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-02-06

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Yuki Matsuzaki, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, John Cleese, Lily Tomlin, Jeremy Irons

Director:

Harald Zwart

Screenplay:

Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin

Cinematography:

Denis Crossan

Music:

Christophe Beck

U.S. Distributor:

Columbia Pictures

Subtitles:

none


I approached The Pink Panther 2 with the firm belief that, no matter how ill inspired it might be, it certainly couldn't be worse than its 2006 predecessor, which set a new low bar for all things Clouseau. In fulfilling those expectations, The Pink Panther 2 represents an improvement, although not so great than many would notice. It is admittedly baffling that a cast with so much talent - Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, John Cleese, Lily Tomlin, Jeremy Irons - can be responsible for something so misbegotten. It's easy to lay a lion's share of the blame at the feet of director Harald Zwart, whose sterling résumé includes Agent Cody Banks, but there's culpability aplenty to go around. No one involved with The Pink Panther 2 escapes unsullied, least of all Martin, who should have given up after recognizing how badly he was miscast three years ago. His "interpretation" of Clouseau makes one suspect the corpse of Peter Sellers would do a better job.

For those searching desperately for silver lining to this black thunderhead, it is there, found early in the proceedings. Peter Sellers is dead and Blake Edwards is enjoying retirement at the ripe old age of 86, but The Pink Panther cartoon character is as lively as ever, making mischief all through the opening credits to the tune of Henry Mancini's unforgettable theme. But when the music ends, the boredom begins. That people are amused by this movie is a good indication of how low standards for comedy have fallen. Viewers often laugh not because something is genuinely funny but because it is supposed to be funny. This allows Hollywood to be sloppy and lazy when it comes to comedies, and few are more sloppy or lazy than The Pink Panther 2.

The story, to the extent that it has enough substance to warrant being called a "story," has Clouseau heading up an international "dream team" of detectives on the hunt for a thief called The Tornado, who has pilfered the Magna Carta, the Japanese Emperor's sword, the Shroud of Turin, and the Pink Panther diamond. Clouseau's fellow sleuths are the Italian Vicenzo (Andy Garcia), the British Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), and the Japanese Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki). Also along for the ride is Sonia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), who is an expert on The Tornado. As usual, Clouseau is generally clueless for the first 3/4 of the movie, bumbling along in a haze of ineptitude, until inspiration strikes and he solves the case. I'm tempted to describe the mystery as Scooby Doo lite, but that might be considered insulting to the venerable dog detective cartoon series. There's also a romance between Clouseau and his assistant, Nicole (Emily Mortimer), that is more embarrassing than cute. Like seemingly everything else in this movie, it's wide of the mark by more than a little.

The breath of fresh air, to the extent that one can be identified in the staleness of this recycled refuse, is John Cleese. Cleese, replacing his good friend Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, has reached into his past for inspiration. Dreyfus is, in fact, none other than Basil Fawlty. For the first time in years, Cleese has abandoned the laid-back persona he has donned for one high-profile cameo after another, and returned to his roots: high-strung, explosive mania. Unfortunately, he isn't on screen much more than he was as Nearly Headless Nick in the first Harry Potter movie. (Interestingly, he's the only "French" character who does not affect a silly French accent.)

The Pink Panther 2 is not completely devoid of laughs. Some of the Cleese stuff is funny and there are a few mildly amusing slapstick moments (although many of them, such as the bit with the globe, recall how much better Sellars was at this kind of material). But the bulk of Clouseau's antics are examples of poor writing and bad timing. The latter is surprising since, throughout his career, Martin has been a master of timing. Too many jokes, such as one in which Clouseau is dressed as the Pope and wanders onto the balcony many times waving his hands, last for so long that their comedic momentum is lost by the time the punch line arrives. Yes, they're supposed to be funny and we know why they're supposed to be funny, but the urge to laugh isn't there. Getting the joke before it has been told is not a good recipe for boundless mirth.

Those with a nostalgic yearning for The Pink Panther may find it hard to stay away, even if the cartoon character isn't around for much longer than in a fiberglass commercial. The solution is to buy a ticket to The Pink Panther 2 then, when the opening credits are done, slip into the next-door theater to see something else. It doesn't much matter what that movie is - it's not likely to be worse than what was left behind.

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