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Dustin Putman

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The Pink Panther 2  (2009)
1 Star
Directed by Harald Zwart.
Cast: Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Yuki Matsuzaki, Aishwaraya Rai Bachchan, Lily Tomlin, Jeremy Irons.
2009 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 3, 2009.
2006's "The Pink Panther," Steve Martin's first foray into Peter Sellers' shoes as bumbling Inspector Jacques Cousteau, was a surprise box-office success despite, frankly, not being very good. More likely to elicit groans from the flat slapstick comedy than any actual laughs—in its 93-minute running time, there were only two moments that were genuinely funny—the film nonetheless won over the mainstream family market. Maybe it was a slow season. Where cash is to be made, sequels are just a few years away. One might be tempted to label "The Pink Panther 2" as more of the same, but this picture cannot even lay claim to two bring-down-the-house moments of humor. A couple chuckles is all it earns, interspersed with a meaner streak than anything found in its predecessor.

When a long-dormant thief known only as "The Tornado" returns to his/her old ways and begins stealing major artifacts from around the world, a so-called Dream Team of investigators—Vincenzo (Andy Garcia), Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki) and Sonia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan)—are called upon to sniff out the culprit. Joining their group, much to the chagrin of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese, taking over for Kevin Kline), is Jacques Cousteau (Steve Martin), a naive klutz who has been biding his time as a parking ticket maid. When the Pink Panther jewel becomes the latest piece to be stolen, they first find themselves on Cousteau's own Paris turf. Managing to unintentionally bungle everything he faces, Cousteau does not exactly gain the immediate trust of his partners. As Pepperidge announces twice (so that, you know, we don't forget it), "If Cousteau locates the identity of the criminal, I shall wear a big pink tutu." Any guesses what Pepperidge's wardrobe is in the final scene?

Directed by Harald Zwart (2003's "Agent Cody Banks"), "The Pink Panther 2" is so inconsequential and leaves such a minuscule impact that it begins to exit the viewer's memory even before it is over. Dumb comedy can still be smart if handled correctly and pulled off with the proper panache, and that is the key to this series' failure. Clumsy hero Jacques Cousteau's antics are rarely amusing and frequently forced. A running joke involving his mispronunciation of "hamburger" is carried over from the earlier movie. It wasn't funny then, and it's not funny now.

The difference between the two films, then, is in Cousteau's personality. He might have been lacking some brain cells in the original picture, but there was an unabashed innocence to him that was still occasionally charming. This time around, he is written as creepily misogynistic, undressing every woman he meets with his eyes, and racially ignorant, calling one Japanese character "yellow" and then making fun of Asian drivers. Additionally, he destroys a French restaurant twice, causing a fire both times, and shows not a moment of remorse or guilt. Are we supposed to excuse Cousteau's behavior and still like him just because he's an idiot? Are we supposed to root for him to get together with the lovely Nicole (Emily Mortimer) when he talks negatively about her behind her back and never apologizes? And why should we care about the plot and ultimate unveiling of the villain when it is all just an excuse for another lazy pratfall?

Steve Martin (2008's "Baby Mama") is a spirited performer and has long been a great comedic talent. His role as Jacques Cousteau requires energy, which Martin gives his all toward, but the material just isn't there to support his outlandish turn. He merely tosses off a fake French accent and expects the audience to roll in the aisles over it. The new cast members, from Alfred Molina (2008's "Nothing Like the Holidays") to Lily Tomlin (2006's "A Prairie Home Companion") to Jeremy Irons (2008's "Appaloosa"), must have agreed to participate as a favor to real-life friend Martin. They can't possibly be this hard-up for work. And then there's the delightful, mischief-eyed Emily Mortimer (2005's "Match Point"), reprising her part as Cousteau's patient love interest Nicole. Mortimer can make lemonade out of any lemon thrown her way, and that is what she does here twofold.

Desperate and dreary—even the animated opening credits are uninspired—"The Pink Panther 2" will only win over fans of the 2006 version who have no idea who Peter Sellers or Blake Edwards are. For everyone else, this is an empty-souled star vehicle that hasn't a clue what actual wit and comic timing (not to mention character development and story intrigue) entail. Steering clear of "The Pink Panther 2" in lieu of watching Leslie Nielsen in "The Naked Gun" again is the best advice to give. They share a similar brand of comedy with one notable difference: the latter knows all too well what it means to be funny.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman