Written by: Letty Muse Tomlinson, Special to CC2K
The benefit to having very low expectations going into a film is that there are no mediocre hopes that must be satisfied. But, The Pink Panther 2 reminded me that even very low expectations could be failed. The waste of the talent and marketability of most of the cast, on this muck made the movie cringe-worthy.
The Pink Panther 2 is a sequel to a 2006 film with almost the same title. (Who knew?!) Steve Martin reprises his role as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling, accidental-genius Parisian detective. When the movie opens, the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, the Emperor’s Sword and the Pink Panther have all been stolen by a stealthy thief who calls himself The Tornado. An international “dream team,” which includes Clouseau, of course, is assembled to track down The Tornado and bring him to justice. Also on the team: Alfred Molina as a pompous British detective; Andy Garcia as an Italian detective whose name sounds like pasta; Yuki Matsuzaki as a Japanese hacker whiz complete with earphones perpetually hung about his neck; and Aishwarya Rai as the most hauntingly hot Indian woman you will ever lay eyes on – really, I can’t recall her character’s expertise, other than professional distraction. John Cleese, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer and Lily Tomlin round out the cast as Clouseau’s boss, buddy, paramour and manners-nanny, respectively.
If you’ve ever seen any of the original Pink Panther movies, cartoons, or probably even the 2006 version, then you can guess how the movie unfolds. The Pink Panther 2 followed pretty closely to the old formula, as I remember it, so the plot wasn’t at all surprising. However, what was upsetting was that the cast didn’t attempt to give the movie any soul.
A slapstick comedy populated with broad caricatures is fine. But, however broad those caricatures are, they should have a modicum of dignity and be generally unaware of their defining idiosyncrasies. A villain doesn’t know he’s a villain; he just knows what he wants and eliminates any obstacle to reach it. A buffoon doesn’t know he’s a buffoon; he just acts, suffers the consequences of his actions and doesn’t learn from them. Each actor in this film knew the archetype he or she was playing and with few exceptions, played their roles completely conscious of type. An actor’s refusal to allow his or her character to genuinely believe and feel what he or she is feeling, and let that motivate the action, regardless of how ludicrous the situation, rings hollow to the audience. The most egregious offender was the movie’s star.
Granted, it has been years – maybe a decade – since I’ve seen any of the original Peter Sellers Pink Panther films, but there are aspects that stick in my memory. Clouseau was a clumsy idiot, but he truly thought he was a great inspector, and desperately wanted to succeed. Steve Martin’s Clouseau pretends to think he’s a great inspector, but really does not ask us to suspend our disbelief for even a fraction of a second to buy what he’s selling. He doesn’t clumsily muck up situations, he flagrantly apes up his buffoonery at any, and every, opportunity. As Martin shares a writing credit on this film, I suspect he loaded the script with those opportunities. His clown-whorishness sullies at least this viewer’s memories of the original.
The rest of the cast doesn’t do much better. While they are all foils to Clouseau’s foibles, it’s clear the actors are just there for a paycheck. Watching them was like sitting in on a joyless table read. To say one or two phoned in their performances would be inaccurate. This movie was a conference call. Each moment was so overly rehearsed that the actors were no longer actively listening to each other and the film was scrubbed of any hope for novelty.
The only cast-member who deviated from this trend was Jeremy Irons. That’s right: Jeremy Irons shows up in this film. When he appeared on screen, I let go with an audible, “oh no!” How I wanted to ride up and rescue him from this dreck. I would have, had he not been on his own horse, and not been a two-dimensional image projected onto a screen. Irons has performed in other blatant cine-crap before, so he’s not without transgression. However, he gives the viewer the only moments of respite in the 92 minutes of this movie. Why? Because, even though his character is a stereotype, Irons fully invests in his reality and in the actions occurring around him.
It’s clear The Pink Panther 2 is a movie vehicle. Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood royalty, is still trying to establish a solid western movie career, so she gets a pass. Matsuzaki gets a pass, too, because he’s young and paying his dues. But what were the rest of them thinking? Is work that scarce? Sure Garcia might be trying to slough off the Vegas dust left by the Oceans franchise and Smokin’ Aces, but was this really his only other offer? Was Tomlin trying to redeem herself from the Huckabees snit? Molina, Mortimer, Cleese and Reno have even less excuse than the rest of them. How bad are their library fines that they chose to participate in this? And let’s not forget Steve Martin. Really, Steve? He may have gone from comedy innovator to institution, but a man as genuinely smart as he is should know that many more vehicles like these will leave him with no other option but to walk the long lonely road back to genuinely good work.