The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

Directed by Harald Zwart

This movie suffers from comparisons. As discussed in my review of Steve Martin’s first The Pink Panther, it gets compared to the Peter Sellers’ movies and that actor’s performances as Inspector Clouseau. This second Steve Martin film, The Pink Panther 2, suffers from the same fate but also from comparisons to the first movie with Martin as Clouseau.

For me, the comparisons with Sellers were dealt with in the first Pink Panther. But comparison to that first Steve Martin Pink Panther are warranted, especially when this second movie is called Pink Panther 2. Sequels invite comparison and with such a title, are almost demanded. They are, after all, rooted in the first.

So, to deal with that and to be brief, while it has its moments, it’s not as good. The question is: why?

To be succinct, it tries too hard. There is much more, but in a nutshell, that’s it.

For one thing, it is less coherent – rather a bizarre word to use when discussing a movie such as this where a well-constructed storyline is not the point or even what is expected. But it comes across as much too episodic and with far too many scenes for the sake of the scenes.

I think there are two things that lead to this impression. The first, and as is discussed in one of the very brief features, the filmmakers wanted “more.” This is usually the case with sequels. Whatever worked the first time, do it more and make it bigger. But I think one of the things that works for the Pink Panther movies, both the Sellers films and the first Steve Martin, was an almost subtle set-up process. In Pink Panther 2, the jokes, largely slapstick, are set-up almost winkingly. It’s almost as if they’re being announced ahead of time.

The end result is a sense much like the one you get when someone, who is not a storyteller, tries to tell a joke and keeps doing things like saying, “Okay, now get this. Here it comes. The guy says — this’ll kill ya — Ready for it? He says …”

And so on. In other words, he kills the joke with an over pronounced set-up. In Pink Panther 2, there is almost nothing unexpected. You see the jokes coming.

The second thing that leads to the impression of excessively episodic are the romantic storylines, which I suspect are contributions from Steve Martin, both in the first and second film. It seems to match his sensibility. Whatever the case, they seem to demand more coherence. And much as I like them, and think they may be what pulled me in with the first film, they create a conflict with the “maguffin” of a thief, a storyline that exists only as an excuse to put Clouseau in comic situations. And a storyline like that, in a movie such as this, can pretty much go anywhere, at anytime, and an audience would likely go along because they’re aware on some level that it is only an excuse for comedy. But a romantic storyline engages much more and, I think, makes the audience want the story to make more sense.

In order to make the movie “bigger” and “more,” Pink Panther 2 pulls in many star names (all of whom need their scenes) and creates more elaborate Clouseau disasters. But for me, what I wanted more of was Nicole (Emily Mortimer), especially Nicole and Clouseau together, as well Ponton (Jean Reno) and, again, Ponton and Clouseau together.

What we get in Pink Panther 2 are Ponton as an afterthought (no room with all the stars that had to be there so it could be “bigger”) and Nicole almost as a prop, or plot device. In both cases, relationships that provided some of the best comedy in the first film, partly due to a degree of understatement, are here over-pronounced. Both the friendship with Ponton and the romantic aspect with Nicole go from being whispered to being shouted in the need to be “bigger” and “more.”

The twist Steve Martin brought to his first interpretation of Clouseau was character. There was a sweetness to his ineptness and refusal to articulate his feelings. Sellers may have done the same with his Clouseau, I don’t recall. But I do know that it is not what is remembered of Sellers’ Clouseau and so it allowed Martin to bring something new, or at least something that seemed new.

That bit of character he brought to the role was almost exclusively through the scenes with Nicole and Ponton. They were quiet, understated moments, the kind you miss if you’re not paying attention.

In Pink Panther 2, the need to jack everything up a notch kills this aspect, although you can see the filmmakers try to retain it. It doesn’t work. It’s lost because something quiet made loud loses its appeal. It’s simply an overblown plot device.

As mentioned above, it’s bizarre to say about a slapstick film but the over-stating aspect is what deflates the movie. I think this may be because the first movie, while being slapstick, was also something more than slapstick. It wasn’t a huge aspect, just a gentle, subtle note that ran through the movie. In Pink Panther 2 it is gone, replaced by excess that essentially eliminates it.

Having done all that complaining, it should be said that there are some very funny moments in the movie. Some of the slapstick works remarkably well. And I can attest to the fact that I was laughing. The scene with the wine bottles, for example, is hilarious and beautifully choreographed and executed.

But overall, some of the best aspects of the first movie are either abandoned or reworked in a way to divest them of their charm. I don’t think I’d call the movie bloated. Rather, I think it’s wrong-headed. As often happens with sequels, more is less and that’s the case here. Too much really is too much.

Yes, Pink Panther 2 made me laugh. So what’s the difference with the first Pink Panther? That movie made me laugh and feel good.

I guess my criticism of the movie is, ironically (given what I’ve said), I wanted more.

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