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MOVIE REVIEW

'The Pink Panther 2'

The Steve Martin-starring sequel gets a black eye from too many sight gags and a performance that's way over-the-top.

February 06, 2009|BETSY SHARKEY | FILM CRITIC

"The Pink Panther 2" slinks into theaters this week with all the stealth of a monster truck with a bad muffler, or a Howie Mandel game show (or use your own favorite over-the-top analogy here). It is all about excess and extremes with any shred, sliver or speck of nuance as elusive as the Pink Panther diamond and apparently Jeremy Irons' self-esteem, but more on that later.

Steve Martin, back for Round 2 as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, is one of the writers, along with Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Perhaps that is why Clouseau is in virtually every scene, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because really all the movie has going for it is whatever comedy Martin can squeeze from the moment -- speaking of analogies, blood out of a turnip comes to mind.

The truth is that "Pink Panther 2" is really not a movie at all but a series of short comedy sketches strung together rather haphazardly trying to masquerade as a movie. It's as if Martin made a wish list of all the people he could have fun playing with. So in reality "Pink Panther 2" is like a party, with games and guests, and everyone's been drinking way too much. Hopefully they had fun.

There is no real plot, the movie's filled with friends of Steve, the comedy is terribly overplayed, or the comedy is overplayed terribly (again, you can choose) -- what you're left with is a bag of tricks that has seen better days.

When we catch up with Clouseau, he's been dispatched to write parking tickets across Paris by the still envious Chief Inspector Dreyfus, played by John Cleese, an actor whose clipped, dry delivery is nearly flawless and is always funny -- even here, though he really should not be asked to bang his head against a wall ever again.

Meanwhile, in a rash of robberies, a mysterious thief who calls himself the Tornado has snatched the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, the pope's ring, an ancient samurai sword and, of course, the famed Pink Panther diamond. A dream team of international sleuths is assembled, which allows for the addition of Alfred Molina and Andy Garcia (among others) to the cast. India's Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, known as much for her beauty as her acting chops, is the girl you can't trust. Emily Mortimer is back as Clouseau's girlfriend/assistant Nicole, and Jean Reno is his trusted sidekick, Ponton. Lily Tomlin signed on to play Mrs. Berenger, a sort of a political correctness officer who clearly has a special case in Clouseau -- yes, you're right, this is absolutely the most implausible character of them all, since when have the French cared whom they offend?

The cast is filled with seasoned veterans who do perfectly good jobs with what they've been asked to do, which is essentially to play the straight man or woman opposite Clouseau as he leaves a swath of destruction, and every sight gag known to man, in his wake. A sampling: Clouseau falling off walls and down chimneys; burning up drapes anywhere they exist; juggling and dropping wine bottles; tripping, sliding, bumping and landing on anything in his path, or near it; crushing the pope's miter and virtually anything else that's crushable; breaking anything breakable -- all accompanied by a French accent that Martin seems to achieve by talking with a mouthful of peanut butter (just a guess).

There's a sort of desperation at work here -- a "You will laugh, or we'll keep throwing everything at you until you do" strategy -- that makes watching it all a bit sad, or funny if you're the type amused by train wrecks.

Speaking of which, there is Jeremy Irons -- make that Oscar-winning Jeremy Irons. One of the finest dramatic actors of the day -- see "Reversal of Fortune," "The French Lieutenant's Woman," "Brideshead Revisited," even "The Lion King" -- he turns up here in a slight role as an infamous French fence in a puffy white shirt and riding pants. (You have to wonder why -- was it to cover the cost of a summer rental on the Mediterranean? If it's because there are no good roles coming his way, please, Hollywood, I implore you, send this man some scripts.)

The director of this fine mess is 43-year-old Harald Zwart, who production notes tell us was the first Norwegian director to be accepted into the Directors Guild of America, which doesn't really say much for the tradition of Norwegian cinema, does it?

His first film, we're told, was made when he was 8. Since then he's cut his teeth on such comedy fare as "Agent Cody Banks," so clearly he gets the secret agent world. What is also clear is that while Zwart might technically be the director, from the opening frame, "Pink Panther 2" is defined by Martin doing exactly as he pleases for the next 90 or so minutes.

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betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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'The Pink Panther 2'

MPAA rating: PG for suggestive humor, brief mild language and action

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: In wide release

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