Disorganized Slapstick

Where perpetually bumbling but ultimately brilliant French police Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) goes, comical commotion follows. So it has been for more than four decades, and proves again in the modestly amusing sequel The Pink Panther 2. It has a few funny facets, but it is no jewel, which is the level of humor aimed for the same age demographics with The Pink Panther 2: subteen.

Picking up where he left off, this follow-up to Martin’s 2006 revival of the character commemorated by Peter Sellers sees Clouseau reduced to traffic duty by his constantly baffled archenemy, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese). Inspired by the Blake Edwards films, with a new animated opening-credits sequence and that familiar Henry Mancini theme, it turns out a master criminal called “The Tornado” has stolen the priceless Magna Carta, the Japanese Emperor’s sword and the Shroud of Turin. Next may be the Pink Panther, a prized French artifact, the rose-tinted gem from which the series takes its title, is added to the list of purloined items, that is, for some reason, the symbol of France’s greatness and not merely an example of carbon under great pressure. Clouseau, despite the apoplectic agitation of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, joins an international team of super-sleuth detectives (Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia, Yuki Matsuzaki and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) who basically regards Clouseau as a small-minded nitwit, is assembled to solve the case, on the trail of a daring criminal who’s been stealing priceless artifacts. Progressive on the trail of “The Tornado”, the group chases clues around the globe, piecing together a suspect while Clouseau proceeds to destroy everything in his path with his unrelenting, yet surprisingly effective ineptitude. To solve the theft of various national treasures, Clouseau’s loyal assistant Ponton (Jean Reno) and the inspector’s secretary — and initially secret love interest — Nicole (Emily Mortimer) help in the investigation.

Opportunities to better develop all of these characters are lost, and we’re left with the sight and stunt gags, which are central to the films. Any fun they may have had fails to survive on the screen. The humor is on a par with Martin’s similarly unfunny family flick Cheaper by the Dozen. The actors are let down by the screenplay and direction, which don’t really thrust the supporting characters out into strong comic focus.

The Pink Panther 2 has taken away the childlike naivety that made Cousteau idiotically charming. He’s certainly just as uncoordinated as always, but he is now appears unapologetic for his disastrous ways. Of course it could be said that in many instances he doesn’t even realize he’s at the center of the hurricane, but when he does he carries on as if he’s done no wrong. While Sellers never seems to be trying to be funny, Martin is obviously trying with all his might—in vain to be so. Although comic mayhem follows Martin’s Clouseau everywhere, as he wreaks havoc at the Vatican, sets a restaurant ablaze, and causes traffic nightmares as he steers his Smart car through Paris, none of it is particularly funny. Devoid of laughs or suspense, the movie seems to have been thrown together as an excuse for a European vacation for the cast.

Reno returns as the guilelessly deadpan Ponton, whose marriage problems send him and his two young sons to move in with Clouseau. Martin’s scenes with the mayhem-making, martial-arts-mad kids fall flat, but his distractedly dismissive relationship with the unshakably faithful Reno has its moments. The most welcome returning player is Emily Mortimer as Clouseau’s sweetly reserved but romantically yearning assistant Nicole. Rai is breathtaking in Bollywood films, where they devote a great deal of deftness to admiring beauty, but here’s she’s underutilized and too much in the background. The exotically beautiful Rai is her rival for Clouseau’s affections, but Mortimer is so adorable―especially with a French accent―that it’s really no contest. Cleese is the right choice as the only member of the French police who seems aware that Clouseau is more idiot than savant.

Norwegian-gone-Hollywood director Harald Zwart is most to blame. As the “Dream Team” of detectives extends across the globe for clues, he clumsily throws and films uninspired gags for all to run headlong in to. How or why this respected list of who’s who of the acting world decided to lend their talents to this is a thousand-fold more puzzling and confusing of a mystery than the one they’re trying to solve in the film.

Despite its extravagantly talented cast, which also includes Lily Tomlin as an enforcer of political correctness at Clouseau’s office and Jeremy Irons as a suspect, Zwart’s addition to the franchise, while benignant, has little more to offer than some effectively disorganized slapstick. Seldom is this sequel as good as the original, as the third time is never the charm, and the V in Saw V, Star Trek V, Rocky V, etc., is short for “A Waste of Time”. The same goes with The Pink Panther 2.

Rating: 1/5

To see The Pink Panther 2 in theatres, check your local listings, or visit the http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thepinkpanther2/

Criticetc is a journalism/film/book critic in Bangkok and Pattaya, and at http://www.pattayacitylive.com  and http://www.cinemainreview.com

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