A film review by Craig J. Koban


THE PINK PANTHER 2 zero stars

2009, PG, 100 mins.

Clouseau: Steve Martin / Ponton: Jean Reno / Nicole: Emily Mortimer / Vincenzo: Andy Garcia / Pepperidge: Alfred Molina / Sonia: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan / Dreyfus: John Cleese

Directed by Harald Zwart / Written by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin.

More PhotosIs it humanly possible for someone out there to think that making a sequel to one of the worst remakes of recent memory is something that audiences are salivating over?

This thought leads me to one prevailing conclusion that crossed my mind all throughout watching - make that enduring - THE PINK PANTHER 2: 

There is not one single, solitary artistic reason for this film to exist.  Not a one.   

2006’s THE PINK PANTHER was one of the most unpardonably unnecessary remakes of a classic film that I probably have ever had the misfortune of sitting through.  With the immortal combination of writer/director Blake Edwards and the late, great Peter Sellers, the original PINK PANTHER and, to an even larger extent, A SHOT IN THE DARK, represented some of the finest examples of the tricky and delicate art form of slapstick comedy.  

Sellers’ classic and incomparably bumbling idiot, Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau, deserves a special ranking way up there with the cinema’s most memorable and iconic comedic creations (maybe right behind Chaplin’s Little Tramp).  What made Sellers’ work so inspired and so ingenious was how he fostered in this persona a wonderfully persistent level of self-delusion tunnel vision: he thought he was a incredibly able-minded sleuth, but in reality he never could understand what a stupendously incompetent officer he was.  The charm – and high hilarity quotient – of Sellers’ Inspector was how the actor used his impeccable comic timing and unmatched slapstick skill to allow his character to cause inhuman levels of havoc and chaos during the most nonchalant of times. 

What made Steve Martins’ attempts at modernizing and updating Seller’s universally revered creation in the 2006 reboot so regrettable was that, simply put, no one - no matter how talented and capable and determined - would ever erase my cherished memories of Sellers’ creation.  Watching Martin stumble his way through a role that he should have never had the opportunity of portraying just rang…utterly false.  Now, I was remorsefully fair to Martin in my review of that film, reflecting that he too, like Sellers, is a genuine comic genius that certainly has made films of indisputable high hilarity (his turn in ALL OF ME still remains one of the single greatest physical comedic performances of all time), but I sincerely and harshly question the integrity of his choice for taking the mantle of a character that carried far too much cinematic baggage for even him to carry.  At the end of that review I wrote, The new PINK PANTHER is not a work of desecration of the memory of the classic Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers films.  Instead, it’s a superfluous and completely uncalled for revisiting of a series that never needed to be further explored in the first place.” 

Now that I have sat through THE PINK PANTHER 2…I am not feeling nearly as forgiving.  Whereas the first film was not horrendous enough to be considered a sacrilegious bitch slap at Edwards’ and Sellers’ legacy, there is no doubt that Martin’s steadfast insistence and childlike stubbornness of retuning to this dubious creative well again is now an act of desecration.  The experience of seeing a once gifted, intelligent, and rousing comic mind like Martin appallingly trudge his way once again as Inspector Clouseau made me feel totally rotten. 

No…I am not engaging in wild hyperbole…a sick and disturbing sensation crept through my stomach as I bore witness to this incalculably wrongheaded and wasteful film.  It’s certainly one thing for Martin to have thrown caution to wind and try to make us forget about Sellers' incarnation of Clouseau with the 2006 remake, but now with PP2 he almost seems to be prancing on the Brit’s grave.  Does this man have no shame at all?  I thought that there was always a healthy and honorable code of respect amoung comedians…but not here.  Martin seems oblivious.  

I'm sad.

What’s even more odious is the fact that we not only have to squirm in our seats at grit our teeth at Martin grasping for laughs, but we also have to go through the dreadful experience of seeing other funny screen actors embarrass themselves.  You may recall that Kevin Kline – who has rarely not been funny in a film – was completely wasted in the potentially uproarious role of Clouseau’s terribly high-strung boss, Inspector Dreyfus.  Showing keen and enormously sound judgment, Kline has dropped out of this turd and has been inexplicably replaced by…John Cleese… who just may be one of the funniest men on the planet at any given time.  Not only is Cleese criminally under-utilized in the film, but his casting and performance seems like one large galactic joke:  Here’s a Brit – and a famous one at that – playing a French character without any apparent effort in the world on his part to muster even a passable French accent.  Go figure. 

The story of the film is so ludicrously handled and executed that you’d think that the child-friendly slapstick and physical gags would at least make up for it.  Nope.  Sorry.  It seems that a deviant, daring, and very competent thief known as The Tornado has been stealing priceless valuables from around the world (like the Magna Carta, the Japanese Emperor’s Sword, the Shroud of Turin, and, yup, the brilliantly sparkling Pink Panther diamond).  For reasons too imbecilic to explain, high-ranking British authorities order Dreyfus to place Inspector Clouseau back on duty to solve the case (this leads to the film’s only single genuine decent giggle, where we see the reaction, behind closed doors, that Dreyfus has to the thought of re-instating Clouseau).  However, Clouseau will not be alone, as a team of well-known and famous sleuths are gathered around him to form a media-anointed “Dream Team” to solve the case: they are comprised of people from various different countries (which are all annoyingly presented as lowest common denominator stereotypes), like the Italian Vincenzo (Andy Garcia, looking absolutely withered and tired here), the Japanese Kenji (Yuki Matsuzkai, whose character only seems to exists as an excuse for setting up one of Clouseau’s most famous ethnic slurs), and the Brit Pepperidge (Alfred Molina, far too good of an actor to debase himself here, who is also the victim of the single worst telegraphed sight gag involving women's clothing I've ever seen).  Oh, there is also the obligatory expert on The Tornado, Sonia, played by the ravenous Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who ignited the screen in BRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and she does much of the same here as the only fine thing to look at in the film.  Yet, even attractive window dressing can't save this movie.

Of course, the film is a laborious excuse at taking great pains to show what a predictably inept and idiotic detective Clouseau is while everyone else seems one step ahead of him.  The silly Inspector does have one confidant in the film, his assistant, once again played by the lovely Emily Mortimer, who shows what an unmitigated sport she is for agreeing to sign the dotted line again for this film.  Unfortunately for Clouseau, she catches the fancy of the woman hungry Vincenzo, which culminates in a later scene where Clouseau, while on a stakeout, tries to botch a dinner date between the pair.  If you want to see physical humor and sight gags awkwardly and abysmally choreographed and delivered, then look no further here.  Add to that the unsettling lack of chemistry between Martin and Mortimer and you can see how the scene became even more nerve wracking. 

But wait…that’s not all…Jeremy freakin’ Irons shows up, of all esteemed people, in a mercilessly brief and gag inducing cameo which just may prove to be the most careless and improper usage of an Oscar winning actor in a comedy ever (you can just feel Iron’s discomfort and self-debasement every second).  Jean Reno also shows up again as Clouseau’s colleague, who perhaps understands that the best way to not stand out in a film as bad as this is to simply play the role as straight and dully as possible.  Thankfully, the film does have one performer that at least made me smile and that was Lilly Tomlin, who has painfully short moments on screen as Clouseau’s etiquette teacher (she takes it upon herself to train the ignorant officer on how to avoid saying things ethnically offensive…not an easy task).  Of course, I smiled less because of the strained dialogue and forced interplay between the actors than I did out of my fond memories of ALL OF ME, where the duo sublimely danced together during the film’s finale.  

Okay…I will admit…I did laugh once when Tomlin insists to Clouseau that he should not constantly debase blond women as being dumb, to which the innocuous Inspector replies, “But…blondes are dumb.”. 

No matter, because PINK PANTHER 2 is a universally laugh free zone.  Rarely have jokes and pratfalls have fallen so thuddingly flat as they do here.  Sellers demonstrated just how nimble, willing, and generous he was with his goofy physicality in the role, but there are far too many broad and over-the-top gags that seem obviously performed by stunt men in this new film…which really drains out all of the merriment and enjoyment factor.  There are instances where you just kind of stare at the screen with your jaw wide open: One moment has the Inspector hit by a car, which cuts away to a wide panoramic shot of the city with Clouseau somersaulting for what appears to be several miles in the sky.  This is not funny.  Why?  Because human beings cannot be struck with enough velocity by a slow moving vehicle to be launched across an entire city.  I can’t possibly be that cynical minded…right? 

You know what…I think I am done here.  I will close by stating on record that I do not happily nor easily give out zero star ratings.  I usually reserve that lowest of the low ratings for films that are both artistically bankrupted failures and have morally offensive content of some kind (for a recent example, see FUNNY GAMES).  Certainly, THE PINK PANTHER 2 is not legitimate enough to warrant me calling it unforgivably immoral with its content (the film is essentially a parade of ham-infested jokes that only wee little tykes will like, but for anyone over 5-years-old, you will be shocked into silence).  Yet,  there is no denying that I was simply offended by the notion that some undesirable sensation and prevailing vision came over Steve Martin that convinced him, in his heart of hearts, that making this film was the right thing to do (if you doubt this, then why would he allow himself to serve as producer and co-writer?).  Seeing Martin’s first shallow and horribly misguided attempt at assuming an icon’s mantle in the 2006's PANTHER film was forgivable enough: if anything, hindsight shows that film as a huge miscalculation in judgment for a proven and truly original comic mind.  

Martin is definitely no dummy: he’s been in some of the funniest films ever, he’s an accomplished screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and musician, not to mention that – twenty years ago – no one could top him on the level of cheerfully absurdist humor.  But, thinking that he believed that there was anything to gain by mocking our collective memories of Peter Sellers once again is the height of self-indulgent, foolhardy, and spiteful-minded artistic egotism.    

Alas, Sellers’ legacy as Clouseau will linger with me forever.  Martin’s efforts here were dead to me the instant I left the theatre.   

  H O M E