Pink Panther 2 opens Friday.
I don't blame Steve Martin for making The Pink Panther 2. There is not exactly a wealth of plum film roles reserved for 60-something-year-old comedians, no matter their résumé ("paging Chevy Chase ..."). And, although reviving the rather outmoded Pink Panther movie series seemed questionable when Martin assumed the role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in February 2006, the nearly $159 million worldwide box office gross that followed silenced many naysayers.
Martin is a talented entertainer who has parlayed his wild and crazy stand-up act into a well-rounded career that includes several seminal comedies and, lately, dramatic producing and writing credits (Shopgirl and the thriller Traitor). However, this is also the same guy who rose to fame telling jokes with a fake arrow piercing his head. So, one should not be surprised when Martin churns out lowbrow moneymakers like Cheaper by the Dozen and Bringing Down the House, especially if these films give him the financial wherewithal to pursue more esteemed interests.
In this context, it is almost ancillary that The Pink Panther 2 is utterly awful. Whereas the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films succeeded, in part, by striving to absurd lengths to play its inanity straight, Martin's incarnation strains to act as though it is in on jokes that either do not exist or land like bunker-buster bombs. The result is far more in keeping with Roberto Benigni's woeful Son of the Pink Panther, which was so bad it drove creator/ director Blake Edwards out of the movie business.
Helmed by the director of One Night at McCool's and Agent Cody Banks, Pink Panther 2 finds Clouseau teaming with a group of international detectives to track down a cat burglar known as "The Tornado," who is stealing historic artifacts around the world, including the priceless Pink Panther diamond. For supposed laughs, there is the sad surfeit of exaggerated accents, unending pratfalls and annoying reaction shots. The American Martin plays a Frenchman, a Cuban (Andy Garcia) plays an Italian, and Alfred Molina ends up wearing a tutu. Honestly, I thought gags involving pope lookalikes passed on with John Paul II.
The single-digit chuckles come during Martin and Lily Tomlin's brief scenes together. This film settles any debate over whether Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is the most stunningly beautiful woman in cinema, although in her role as a criminology expert, it's clear she left her acting skills back in Bollywood.
The film flatlines around the time Clouseau's faithful sidekick, Ponton (Jean Reno), washes his partner's hair, during which the two launch into a song-and-dance inspired by the pronunciation of Jojoba shampoo. Those responsible for Pink Panther 2 evidently thought this was hilarious; it, along with the whole film, just made me want to shoot an arrow through my head.
The recently announced Academy Award nominations left me with mixed feelings, as they do most years. I was gratified that several worthy but less well-known performances were remembered and recognized, including Richard Jenkins for Best Actor in The Visitor and Melissa Leo's Best Actress nomination for Frozen River. On the other hand, that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads the way with 13 nominations and Changeling garnered even one nomination, much less three, are both ridiculous beyond words.
In case anyone needs another reason to attend Durham's annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, four of the five films nominated for Best Documentary Feature—Encounters at the End of the World, The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), Man on Wire and Trouble the Water—were screened during the 2008 Full Frame, with the latter three winning festival honors. So, if you would like to get a head start on next year's Oscars, plan to attend this year's Full Frame, scheduled for April 2-5.