Thursday, February 5, 2009
The second installment of the “Pink Panther” do-over franchise is enough to make you wish the ghost of Peter Sellers would come back to haunt every human and animal that contributed to what amounts to cinematic sacrilege. If the first failed experiment wasn’t enough to convince audiences and producers of the error in their ways, then The Pink Panther 2 should be the last straw. Steve Martin returns as the accident-prone French detective, Inspector Clouseau, who gets taken off Parisian meter-maid duties when the famous Pink Panther diamond is stolen along with a plethora of other world treasures by a note-leaving bandit who calls himself The Tornado.
An incongruous script flashes between Clouseau’s visits with a political correctness guide (Lily Tomlin) and off-kilter interactions with a “dream team” of fellow detectives played by Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Aishwarya Rai and a miscast Yuki Matsuzaki. The case leads the team to Rome, where Clouseau has a history of burning down a local restaurant while attempting to woo his doe-eyed secretary Nicole (Emily Mortimer). Compared with the Peter Sellers films, there’s nothing pink about it.
Steve Martin’s screenwriting contributions, in collaboration with Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, come across in Clouseau’s proclivity for ogling women. But the stale humor is anachronistically left-field and stands out like a sore thumb. Like Martin’s ill-conceived Shopgirl, which also mined the comedian’s personal penchant for skirt-chasing, the jesting falls under the uncomfortable category of too much information.
There’s no question that the filmmakers believe on some level that they are “paying homage” to the Pink Panther films that made up the meat of Peter Sellers’ career, but they completely miss the nuance of Sellers’ highly polished set pieces that grew out of an evident British sensibility. Also missing is Blake Edwards’ always-evident experience as a director that gave an air of dignity and scale to the Sellers films that supported their slapstick charm.
John Cleese aptly takes over Chief Inspector Dreyfus duties from Kevin Kline, who played the role in the last film, but the Monty Python alum is barely allowed enough screen time to register as Clouseau’s permanently traumatized boss. Cleese has one of the funniest moments in the film when he repeatedly smashes his head against an office wall. It’s a small, unintended example of why Cleese would have been a far better casting choice for playing Clouseau than Steve Martin.
Director Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks) picks up freelance contractor duties in setting up shots and moving around cameras in the service of an unready script. Even if the diamond theft serves merely as a signature MacGuffin, here the mystery is reduced to a distracting footnote along with Jeremy Irons as a prime suspect named Avellaneda.
For all of Steve Martin’s overworked effort at filling Peter Sellers’ shoes with a pained French accent, The Pink Panther 2 carries little comic resonance. Packing the movie with character actors only exposes the filmmakers’ lack of belief in their story. The only good side effect here is that it can remind audiences of Peter Sellers’ truly inspired comic films.
If you want to see a Pink Panther movie, you’ve still got to watch the originals.
THE PINK PANTHER 2 (1) Directed by Harry Swart Starring Steve Martin, Andy Garcia, Lily Tomlin, Alfred Molina, John Cleese and Emily Mortimer. PG, 92 mins. At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.