Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Pink Panther 2 (MGM/Columbia/Sony, DVD release by 20th Century-Fox, 2009)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Pink Panther 2 was the 2009 sequel to the 2006 Pink Panther (which actually had very little to do with the 1963 original other than both featured the hyperthyroid pink diamond of the title, and virtually all the human characters were either trying to steal the diamond or trying to stop others from doing so). Both starred Steve Martin as Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the French police — the role famously created by Peter Sellers in the 1963 Pink Panther and its immediate sequel, 1964’s A Shot in the Dark — and though most of the reviewers made the predictably invidious comparisons, frankly they were remembering the 1960’s films as far funnier than they seem to be now. Charles missed the running gags of the first Steve Martin Pink Panther — particularly the ones showing Clouseau’s unwitting vendetta against bicyclists; The Pink Panther 2 is more a series of comic set-pieces separated by some dull exposition scenes.

But that doesn’t matter (at least not to me!) because the set-pieces are so funny: a sequence in an Italian restaurant in which Clouseau and his date, Nicole (Emily Mortimer), frantically dash around the restaurant to catch the wine bottles from a nervously tilting rack before they break, save them all but then Clouseau inadvertently sets the restaurant on fire and burns it down (the fire gag is repeated at the end of the film — a bit oddly, because one would have thought that after going through the trouble and expense of rebuilding, the owners would have had the good sense to remove all flaming dishes from their menu); a marvelous scene in which Clouseau and one of his rivals on the international “dream team” (14 years after the O. J. Simpson trial the phrase seems rather anachronistic!) recruited to solve the current set of crimes, British detective Pepperidge (Alfred Molina — odd casting as an Englishman, but it works) engage in a series of competitive deductions similar to the ones Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft do at the beginning of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Greek Interpreter” (remember that Blake Edwards’ original conception of Clouseau’s character was that he was just clumsy, not stupid); the “Black Ninja” bodyguards that are trained to crash into the office of Clouseau’s superior, Dreyfus (John Cleese, replacing Kevin Kline) whenever one of his secret cameras or recorders is disabled, and who can only be stopped with the clue word embedded in a computer chip on Clouseau’s medal from the Legion of Honor (that one, too, is reprised at the end); and what’s easily the best scene in the film, in which Clouseau and the other “dream team” members visit the Pope (the plot, in case you cared, consists of a master thief called “The Tornado” who after a decade in retirement decided to resume his career in spectacular fashion by stealing important historical and religious relics: the original Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, the Japanese Imperial Sword, the Pink Panther — well, it had to come in somewhere — and the Pope’s ring, which “The Tornado” manages actually to slip off the Pope’s finger as he sleeps) and Clouseau, announcing he’s going to reconstruct the crime, dresses as the Pope, appears on the Pope’s balcony and of course is mistaken for the real one by the assembled masses below.

In fact Clouseau does that several times, and on the last go-round he takes a spectacular pratfall off the balcony and does a series of Keatonesque “trajectory” gags that get Clouseau “outed” as a Papal impostor and embarrassed worldwide in the media. (There are quite a few TV news reports in this movie — many of them done by Christiane Amanpour of CNN, playing herself and covering the incidents of the plot as she would do with real news.) The finale is a bit disappointing and makes almost no sense — the original “Tornado” is found dead, an apparent suicide, and the note says he destroyed the Pink Panther; later the gem is recovered but it shatters when a bullet hits it — something a real diamond wouldn’t do: obviously the gem is a fake, but it takes the characters several minutes to figure that out even though any reasonably savvy audience member knows it immediately. The new round of crimes turns out to be committed by a second “Tornado,” a woman, Sonia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) — who’s also been cruising Clouseau throughout the movie whenever he’s been on the outs with Nicole — which in a way brings the Pink Panther series full circle because once again the writers are ripping off Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, a far better movie than any of the Panthers.

Still, thought it was a box-office disappointment (and the way things are going it and the recent Fame remake may be the last movies ever released under the MGM banner — the studio declared bankruptcy on September 25, thereby jeopardizing the production of The Hobbit and the next James Bond movie), The Pink Panther 2 is quite funny — and that despite the handicap (shared by the Absent-Minded Professor remake, Flubber) that the lead is being played by a middle-aged man who’s too old to do spectacular slapstick, with the result that he’s quite obviously doubled through most of the film’s big moments.