Director: Harald Zwart
Writers: Steve Martin, Scott Neustadter, and Michael H. Weber
Cast: Andy Garcia, John Cleese, Jeremy Irons, Steve Martin, Matsuzaki Yuki, Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, Aishwarya Rai, Jean Reno, and Lily Tomlin
As a disclaimer, I should recount my deplorable experience trying to review The Pink Panther 2. I wasn’t allowed at the press screening, so I had to attend a sneak preview instead, which was somewhat inconvenient, seeing as how the event was scheduled four and a half hours before my deadline. You see, even though I’ve been critiquing movies professionally for some time now, the promoters didn’t feel they could trust my discretion with this hardly awaited sequel to the 2006 Pink Panther remake. I’m not quite sure what in this addlebrained comedy would’ve been worth spoiling: the endearing animated sequence during the opening credits?
Anyway, after failing to convince the overzealous gatekeepers my cell phone wasn’t a concealed recording device, I entered the theatre room, unaware they’d accidentally taken my notepad along with my electronic apparels. No sooner had I made myself comfortable than a woman asked me to move behind someone who’d apparently never heard of deodorant so she and her friends could sit together. I looked around, noticing there were still plenty of seats available, and pointed out the row was reserved for the press. She assured me she was a VIP, so I changed places only to find out she wasn’t a critic at all but a friend of one of the promoters who felt that somehow gave her priority over those who had come for work instead of free entertainment.
The room slowly filled, and a local radio announcer called up a few children to the front, inviting them to make fun of Inspector Clouseau’s trademark French accent for a free promotional T-shirt. “I don’t want to, Mom!” a boy behind me complained, “I don’t know what to say!” No doubt, his cultural sensitivity instinct was kicking in, but his mother was more concerned with peer pressure. “Just do like the other kids!” she scolded. “But that’s cheating,” the child argued, “and I don’t know anything about this movie!” The mother sighed. She then raised her voice: “It’s for a free T-shirt!” As my faith in humanity withered, I was suddenly reminded of Rousseau’s theory of natural man.
Fortunately, the film started shortly after, which is to say fifteen minutes late. Much to my surprise, the audience, which was full of children, had little trouble piping down. That is, except for the woman who was not a critic, somehow under the impression she was in her living room and therefore free to pass asinine comments throughout the movie. “I knew it! I knew that was going to happen!” she’d exclaim, ever so proud of having predicted Clouseau (Steve Martin) tipping over a wine cabinet. What gave it away, the extended close-up of the bottles or the waiter overemphasizing their worth? “Uh-oh! I can tell there’s going to be trouble!” She’d just spotted the tray of flambé desserts.
Her most memorable comment followed a deliberately racist exchange between Clouseau and his sensitivity trainer (Lily Tomlin) in which the former goes into a rant about the way Asians drive. “That’s so true!” shouted the woman who was not a critic. She then went on about the general inferiority of my race and snapped when I politely asked her to be quiet: “I wasn’t talking about you! I was talking about my Chinese-or-whatever daughter-in-law!” I pointed out she shouldn’t have been talking at all, to which she replied by loudly denigrating her son’s wife for about half an hour and leaving the theatre a few minutes before the film’s climax, whispering to her friends, “This is so beneath me!” with staggering confidence.
Now, you might be wondering how any of this relates to the cinematic worth of Harald Zwart’s The Pink Panther 2. I suppose I should instead have discussed the film’s perfunctory plot, which involves Clouseau joining an international “dream team” to apprehend the Tornado, a mysterious cat burglar whose next target may be the titular Pink Panther jewel. The setup allows for an impressive cast, including Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irons, Alfred Molina, and Aishwarya Rai, but the latter are given little to do other than groan at the hero’s lame antics, and the screenplay is so formulaic viewers are likely to see every twist and turn coming a mile away, providing they’re still paying attention.
I guess I should also have explained that what made Jacques Clouseau so memorable in the original Pink Panther series is Peter Sellers’ unique ability to appear as if he’s oblivious to his own buffoonery, that Steve Martin, a brilliant comedian in his own right, is too self-aware for the part, hamming it up at every opportunity, and that John Cleese, replacing Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, might have been a better fit. Of course, it doesn’t help that Jean Reno is far too passive in the role of Ponton, Clouseau’s partner and only friend. As the straight man, he should channel both our affection and exasperation toward the bumbling hero. Instead, he spends most of the movie bored out of his mind, and, as a result, so does the audience.
I probably should’ve mentioned as well the film’s bafflingly abundant sexual innuendos and racial slants, which strike me as wildly inappropriate for a PG-rated comedy with cartoonish slapstick and pie-in-the-face jokes. Truth be told, I don’t much mind the double entendres–children too young for this type of humour are likely too young to catch the references anyway–but the racist gags are an entirely different matter. Because Clouseau is presented as the hero and he never gets his comeuppance, I worry more impressionable viewers might not grasp the subtle notion we’re meant to laugh at his shameless bigotry, not endorse it. The woman who was not a critic certainly didn’t.
Certainly, all these points would have made for a clearer, more concise review. However, nothing could better sum up my feelings about The Pink Panther 2 than the only four words I bothered jotting down in that dark theatre room. As I mentioned before, the woman who was not a critic eventually stormed out, so I was able to watch the last fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie without interference. I’d figured out that putting my coat over my nose kept me from having to smell the man who’d never heard of deodorant, and I’d even found a crumpled old receipt on which to take notes. Here’s what I scribbled shortly before the end credits started rolling: “Not any less annoyed.”