The Pink Panther 2

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The Pink Panther 2

Release Date: Feb. 6

Director: Harald Zwart

Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Steve Martin

Cinematographer: Denis Crossan

Starring: Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina

Studio/Run Time: Sony/Columbia/MGM, 92 mins.

It’s not freakishly, impressively terrible like The Love Guru, but The Pink Panther 2 is an extremely uninspired oddity, as if it's aimed at children who like jokes about ogling women or at adults who remember the older films and like to see them redone with different actors. Lots of them.

Rarely has a number in a film title seemed so strangeAnd rarely has a number in a film title seemed so strange. Of all the ways that you could count the long string of Pink Panther movies or count the number of people who've played the bumbling detective, it's hard to come up with "two" for the latest. But it's the second one starring Steve Martin as Jacques Clouseau, and since Blake Edwards called his second and best Clouseau film A Shot in the Dark (1964), the title was available. Now, at last, the slot has been filled.
Edwards is not involved in the new one, but even when he was at the helm, the series was a bumpy ride. That sacred ground has long since been trampled by people trying to milk the formula, and the best way to do right by that history would be to make a funny movie. Unfortunately, the new film has a handful of chuckles, at most. A quick gag involving Andy Garcia and a hand mirror made me smile, and so did a couple of irreverent visual jokes involving the pope. A promising bit that has Clouseau tossing wine bottles willy-nilly across a crowded restaurant runs out of ideas just as its momentum is building, but the film never dwells. It moves swiftly on, leaving minor disappointment in its wake.
Many of the pratfalls and stunts are more curious than funny, which was true of the 1970s films, too. In this age of CGI effects, it's almost endearing to see someone wearing a Steve Martin wig crash through walls and dangle from stunt wires, with little attempt to hide the mismatched face. And Martin's hideous mugging and ridiculous accent probably flatten more jokes than they inflate, as audiences struggle to make out the punch lines. He seems to have picked up where Peter Sellers left off in the later films instead of where he was funny in the earlier ones.
What's most unusual about the "2" in the title is that it encourages us to ignore history even while the film itself riffs on the old comedies, like Chrisopher Nolan adding a Prince tune to The Dark Knight. Instead of Cato, who is ordered to attack Clouseau when he least expects it, Clouseau has two karate kids staying in his flat for reasons that make little sense. Instead of ogling beautiful women, Clouseau, yes, ogles Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, but also receives an upbraiding from Lily Tomlin who guides his old-fashioned ways toward the current century. The filmmakers are either alluding to the old films or they’re lazily adapting them for a modern audience.
But who is this modern audience? And why cast such strong, funny actors (Alfred Molina! Jeremy Irons!) only to relegate them to reaction shots that are parceled out like contractual obligations? Having set up an unwieldy “dream team” of detectives who will solve a string of high-profile heists, the film zips past failed set pieces, ties up its mystery story, and pounces to a halt without a single hearty laugh. The Pink Panther 2 is like the meat that Jeff Goldblum sent through the teleporter in The Fly: looks familiar, tastes weird. The steak’s sizzle is surprisingly hard to duplicate.

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