[8 July 2009]
Associate Features Editor
When Steve Martin debuted his version of Peter Sellers’ classic character to a new generation in the late winter of 2006, its reception was far from glowing. The Pink Panther featured Martin’s version of Inspector Clouseau as a bumbling, stumbling genius, but the film focused far too much on the bumbling and stumbling part instead of the human side of a haplessly clumsy do-gooder.
Despite a critical drubbing, the film grossed more than $158 million worldwide, and it came as know surprise (but with much trepidation) when plans for a sequel were announced. Many hoped for (but did not expect) a renovation – an apology film that got back to the characters’ roots and brought Martin back to comedy nirvana.
Perhaps it could remind older viewers of Sellers’ best moments and persuade younger viewers to give the classic films a first look. However, after becoming one of the few people to actually view The Pink Panther 2, I can safely and sadly say this is not the case.
Martin’s second attempt to revive one of his favorite childhood franchises is far too conventional to function as anything the former SNL vet could have hoped for. Perhaps he wanted to reach a larger audience through broad humor and a multi-national cast, but Martin must have realized early on that this outing would be less fruitful than the last.
Its humor is almost entirely slapstick, and lacks much of the verbal absurdity found in the 2006 version. This balance may amuse some very young viewers, but the side story featuring Lily Tomlin as a public relations manager trying to keep Clouseau’s sexual remarks under wraps will keep parents from letting their children see it in the first place. The content, though tame compared to recent rowdy PG-13 romps, is simply too risqué for its main demographic (the under 12 crowd). While Martin may have hoped to entertain both young and old with what he saw as parallel comedic tropes, he neglected to realize how contradictory sexual jokes are to adolescent clowning
While the idea of turning an ignorant sweetheart politically correct does spawn a few amusing scenes, it also creates a sublevel of foreign stereotyping once the film’s main players are drawn out. One of The Pink Panther 2’s sole highlights is the talented cast, but even their acting prowess cannot overcome their character’s internal flaws.
Many of the talented thespians are found in The Dream Team, an ironic title given to a newly appointed group of detectives from various European countries who are assigned to recover assorted high profile stolen artifacts taken by The Tornado (the origin for this odd name is never revealed). The authorities in France choose Clouseau, of course, while British officials send Chief Inspector Randall Pepperidge, played by Alfred Molina with a fitting lack of passion for such a ho-hum role.
Andy Garcia, who plays the Italian detective, incorporates an Italian inflection so shockingly poor you wonder if he’s challenging Martin in a Most Ridiculous American Impression of a Foreign Accent Contest. Finally, we have a fairly new face in Yuki Matsuzaki as the Japanese detective who always has a pair of headphones around his neck to convey his computer prowess.
Are these caricatures of foreign dignitaries accurate or even amusing? No. They’re anecdotal. Far more disturbing, however, is Martin’s knowledge of the stereotypes appearing in his film and his acceptance of them.
In another scene with the PR rep played by Tomlin, Clouseau responds to an inkblot test with trite exaggerations of American notions of foreign flaws. At one point, he even refers to Matsuzaki’s character as his little yellow friend.
Though I would hope one version of the script had a conclusion that showed Clouseau learning the error of his ways, it never is shown in this cut of the film. The element only adds to the mishmash of conflicting humor and serves to alienate both the parents forced to watch with their kids and the children themselves. In the end, the volatile combination all but ruins the film for both parties.
The bonus features in this single-disc package are few and even less amusing than the mostly unfunny film. The gag reel is rather bland for something designed to showcase how much fun the cast was having during the production.
A seven-minute making of documentary titled Drama is Easy…Comedy is Dangerous tries to show how brave Martin was for handling many of his own stunts, but falls short of even that when Martin quips, “I do what I call eighty percent of my stunts, which is just up until the very serious moments when someone will step in.”
Finally, another making of documentary (A Dream Team Like No Other) briefly interviews each cast member about their character, but rarely strays from their explanations for why each actor liked the script. Martin himself is oddly absent from much of the 20 minutes of content. One would imagine a man so passionate about a character would be more ready to talk about him, unless he realized no one was listening.