February 12, 2009

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The Pink Panther 2 (PG)
Steven Martin and a painful Pepé Le Pew accent pratfall through a Paris populated by other strange or terrible accented characters in The Pink Panther 2, a movie that seems to be predominantly about falling off things and accidentally setting things on fire.

Actually, Pepé Le Pew, the vaguely Maurice Chevalier-like skunk of Warner Brothers fame, is not exactly Martin’s accent. Martin’s has something flat and stubbornly American about it. When paired with actual French-speaker Jean Reno, who plays his sidekick Ponton, it is like the difference between a sour appletini (Martin) and an actual apple (Reno). Not that I’m looking to Pink Panther for linguistic accuracy; it’s just that Martin’s accent grates, as does Andy Garcia’s “that’s-a big-a meata-ball” Italian accent. And then there’s the fact that a significant number of the other “French” characters (like the chief inspector, played by John Cleese) speak with British accents.

The plot of this sequel requires people with a variety of accents to come together to form an international dream team of detectives. Seems that someone has been stealing the treasures of the world and, to catch this criminal, a group of top-notch detectives assembles — the Italian Vincenzo (Garcia), the British Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), the Japanse Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki) and, of course, the French Inspector Clouseau (Martin). Indian writer Sonia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) shows up to add even more international flavor — and to add fire to a romantic subplot involving Clouseau and his assistant Nicole (Emily Mortimer). And then they all get to work watching Clouseau fall off balconies, break things and generally behave like a nincompoop.

I feel I should go back and watch the original Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies. I remember liking them as a kid, laughing at the bumbling Clouseau along with my parents. I don’t remember my parents fidgeting and wearing pained expressions, which was my disposition for most of this movie. The Pink Panther 2 isn’t just corny and goofy — it’s stale. It feels like we’re being served mispronunciations of “hamburger,” gags involving accidental arson and demonstrations of Clouseau’s cluelessness that lost their flavor a long time ago. I will say I was in less pain during this movie than during the original Martin Pink Panther, but this movie doesn’t even offer the kind of bland, inoffensive goofiness that made Paul Blart: Mall Cop as medium-likeable as it is. There is something too forced, too self-conscious about the silliness here. Martin’s Clouseau never really lets go. C-

Rated PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action. Directed by Harald Zwart and written by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin (with characters by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards), The Pink Panther 2 is an hour and 32 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony.