In the 1960s, the spirit of Do-It-Yourself Comedy abounded. It was a politically turbulent time marked by audience consumption of some of the most ludicrous laughs out there. A time that gave birth to Monty Python. A time that gave birth to Laugh In. A time when “Yakety Sax” could still be used unironically. The copious drug experimentation probably didn’t hurt either.
All this loftiness to say – The Pink Panther 2 is not cinematic excrement.
I know I have to frame my review this way because I can read your mind. I know what you’re thinking. Ten seconds ago, you were wondering why I didn’t just say, “shit,” thirty seconds ago, the song “Yakety Sax” started playing in your brain, and when you read the title you though, “Yeah Right.”
When you first heard about a sequel, you scoffed. When you saw the first trailer, you questioned Steve Martin’s career sanity. And I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. I was wrong. Pink Panther 2 is actually a pretty solidly entertainment film.
Famous detective Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) returns to head a dream team of investigators – the Italian Vicenzo (Andy Garcia), the Brit Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), and the Japanese computer whiz Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki) – after four of the world’s most priceless icons are stolen by master thief, The Tornado.
It’s simple, but the plot acts as a stage to see how many wine bottle Clouseau can juggle, how much property he can damage, and how many pope’s he can impersonate. The movie works on a very innocent level, and Martin does a good job of bringing bumbling to a higher art form. He’s no Buster Keaton. He’s not Peter Sellers. But, he’s good in his own right. Plus, he has a strong cast to back him up. Jean Reno as Ponton is as endearing as I’ve ever seen him. Emily Mortimer is a sweet, subdued version of bumbly, and Andy Garcia and Alfred Molina play to their strengths. It’s a farce, yes, but it’s clear that talented actors weren’t just phoning it in.
Where the film fails is no real surprise – it’s too generic, too digestible to really be of any consequence. It’s the cinematic version of the baseball team that has all the right players, the best possible equipment, but still manages to miss making the playoffs. The pieces are there, and most of them fit, but the complete puzzle isn’t anything all that interesting.
Plus, if the site gags are really all the film is built for, the record isn’t all that good. More of the gags work than don’t work, but there are decent stretches of the movie where not much funny is going on despite the desperate efforts to make something happen. Then there are the surprising moments – times when a gag seems to be going nowhere, but just when you lose interest, you realize they were going for an entirely different gag altogether that catches you off guard and ends with Clouseau making international headlines as a child beater. But in the funny way.
For the most part, Pink Panther 2 hits every note that it should without ever being terribly impressive. They do achieve a sort of cartoonish feel without going over the top, which should be praised, and having Christiane Amanpour – an incredibly well-respected journalist – do some of the set up news programs was a stroke of genius that brought balance to the fact that Clouseau is knocked clear across Paris in the opening scene. It’s bit of the absurd mixed with gravitas, and it works to create something a lot more enjoyable than you’d think.
So, yes, I come not to bury Pink Panther or Steve Martin but to praise them. Maybe not praise them to the hilltops, but I realize what I’m up against. This film doesn’t deserve some of the labels it will receive from that odd group of crazed Sellers fanatics, and I admit to pre-judging it quite a bit up until that crucial point where my job demands I be objective, but it still rises above the first and delivers something entertaining if not ultimately forgettable.
The Upside: Good actors from talented actors, Emily Mortimer continues to be awesome, classic slapstick done in a way that’s not completely dated, more than a few solid laughs.
The Downside: A few of the gags don’t work, and when you’re entire film rests on it, you’d better make sure every single one knocks it out of the park. And, yes, there will be two or four lines of Steve Martin’s French that sound completely American-pretending-to-be-French.
On the Side: Steve Martin grew up in Waco, Texas, just a stone’s throw from the International Headquarters of Film School Rejects, and where I may or may not have gone to college.