The Pink Panther 2
Martin, in Clouseau redux, falls flat
In "The Pink Panther 2," Steve Martin garbles his way through another turn as the moronic Inspector Jacques Clouseau. I would say the reprise is ill-advised, but the first outing made a lot of people a lot of money. And idiot peacekeepers are hot again. Before Paul Blart, there was Clouseau. So rather than making too much out of how terrible the second helping of Clouseau is (quite, actually), in the spirit of generosity, I'll take a moment to note that this excruciating excuse for entertainment contains a few painkillers.
Take Andy Garcia. He plays the Italian member of the "international dream team" of detectives in pursuit of a stolen diamond, and every time he delivered his character's name - something like Vicenzo Ricotta Yada Yada Brancaleone - my migraine went away. As work, his job is thankless, but he does it like a professional. It's not condescension I detect as he trudges from one set to the next, it's something approximating enjoyment.
Sadly, his pleasure isn't contagious. My head appreciated him more than my heart ever did. The same is true for everybody who shows up to work alongside or across from Martin - a tan, trim Jean Reno, Alfred Molina (using his English accent for a change), Emily Mortimer (not using hers), John Cleese, Lily Tomlin, Johnny Hallyday, Jeremy Irons. They're far from wax versions of themselves, but this is still a movie that was probably more fun to make than it is to sit through.
Martin, who's scarily ageless, appears to be having a ball. He tries on a mint-green matador costume and attempts to tango. He dangles two obnoxious French children over a balcony. He manages not to crack up while plying the pope (Eugene Lazarev) with insults. He uses that bad French accent with the grace of someone handling a bazooka. Paying customers may find his enthusiasm heartening, but Martin works so hard that all you see after a while is the work. That's true of all the actors. The same couldn't be said of the cast of the original "Pink Panthers," including Peter Sellers as Clouseau.
Even at their gassiest, those movies at least had a director in Blake Edwards. At no point in "Pink Panther 2" does credible screenwriting or apparent direction allow for the sensation of spontaneity. Everyone is free to talk over everyone else or, as Irons does, pretend they're not even there. Aishwarya Rai doesn't appear to know what film she's in. The Indian superstar - working now as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan - plays a criminologist who constantly looks like she's wandered in from one of Rai's L'Oreal ads. Her function here is window dressing. She makes even less sense here than Beyonce, who was Zee Sexy Ladee in the first movie. But all these international names ensure the brand's global domination.
A decent commercial movie tries to build on its scenes. The scenes in "The Pink Panther 2" seem arranged by a SaladShooter. Most of them are pointless. My own personal fantasies aside, why does Reno's character move himself (and two little sons) into Clouseau's apartment? Why do the sons attack him with their karate? Why has their assault been shot and edited like a remedial sequence from "The Monkees"?
That Clouseau's idiocy vexes just about everybody should be funny. It's hard, however, to get past the movie's idiocy. Playing Clouseau's exasperated boss, Cleese rams his head into a wall minutes into the action. That's a powerful image, insofar as his headache was mine.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.