Another Phone-in for Martin in Pink Panther 2
- Friday, February 06, 2009
DVD Release Date: June 23, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: February 6, 2009
Rating: PG (for some sexually suggestive humor, brief mild language and action)
Run Time: 92 min.
Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Steve Martin, Andy Garcia, John Cleese, Emily Mortimer, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Jeremy Irons, Yuki Matsuzaki, Lily Tomlin
Hollywood can really be lazy sometimes. To see a quintessential example, one need look no further than the second incarnation of MGM’s contemporary reboot of the Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards Pink Panther series.
Rather than striving to emulate the inventive slapstick and droll cleverness of the originals, one senses the only goal here was to throw a bunch of goofiness together as quickly as possible. This limp sequel exists for no other reason than to turn a quick buck during a lean cinematic season. That the studio expects you to plop down upwards of ten dollars a ticket for this dull live-action cartoon is pretty insulting.
The Pink Panther 2 slogs along with rare sparks of amusement (and even the few that pop—the juggling aftermath of a tipped wine rack, or a “deduction face-off” between Inspector Clouseau and Alfred Molina’s super detective—only do so faintly). Legendary comics like Steve Martin and John Cleese—as well as respected talents such as Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irons and Lily Tomlin—don’t do this because the material is so good; it’s because the paycheck is. It’s hard to blame actors for taking such undemanding, lucrative paydays, but you don’t have to subsidize it.
The plot, such as it is, is fairly straightforward. A mysterious super-villain known only as “Les Tornado” has successfully stolen the most rarified historical artifacts—the Shroud of Turin, the Magna Carta, among others—but it’s not until the coveted Pink Panther diamond is absconded (the care of which has been passed from Clouseau to Cleese’s Chief Inspector Dreyfus) that the world has had enough. Major intelligence agencies jointly assemble a super-detective “Dream Team”, Clouseau among them.
It’s all a basic setup with predictable narrative arc (a member of the Dream Team is the real thief, and it’s easy to guess who early on), laboriously drawn out for the simple purpose of serving as framework for broad physical comedy, silly butchering of the French accent, and recurring sexually suggestive humor (not overly explicit, but certainly flirting to the edge of what’s acceptable to many Christian parents). That sounds like the blueprint followed by the classic Panther films—and it is—but the key distinction between the two is that the originals were fueled by comic inspiration, invention and wit, whereas these rip-offs are barely even trying.
The difference is best exemplified by comparing Peter Sellers’ Clouseau and Steve Martin’s pale imitation. Sellers’ genius is that he anchored his whole approach with conviction. As absurd as Clouseau and the chaos he created was, as an actor Sellers truly believed it. He invested himself into it. With Martin, it’s just shtick.
What’s funny, actually, is to read producer Robert Simonds wax eloquent with pretentious flair about what Martin “brings to the role.” From the press notes: “Steve completely embodies this character, bringing so much more to it than is even on the page. He understands Clouseau. He writes for Clouseau. He creates the world. Steve brings Clouseau a really interesting combination of vulnerability and self-assurance, but he is also incredibly erudite. He possesses an incredibly sophisticated sense of humor.” Robert—he’s phoning it in! Come on, man. I mean, I know as producer you have to sell the soap, but there’s a problem when I’m laughing more at your quotes than at anything in the actual movie.
Worse yet (and especially telling), the directorial seat has been degraded from Blake Edwards to Harald Zwart. It's hard to believe the studio really cares about this franchise when they’re handing the reins over to a guy whose most notable cinematic accomplishment is Agent Cody Banks. The boy behind me at my screening sure wasn’t fooled. After laughing hysterically at an opening stunt that literally sent Clouseau flying halfway across Paris he gleefully exclaimed, “Mommy, this is so funny!”. About twenty laughless minutes later he squirmed, “Mommy, this is boooooring.” That pretty much says it all.
Look, if easy sight gags, obvious wordplay and overall dull humor still serve as enjoyable comfort food then far be it from me to keep you from this towering achievement of those virtues. But please, don’t drop first-run theater dollars on this (albeit good-natured) nonsense. Save it for the soon-to-be discount dollar-theater run, or a cheap rental on a lazy mid-summer night (I’ve little doubt it’ll be available by Memorial Day weekend). You’ve waited this long for The Pink Panther 2; a little longer won’t kill you.
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