The Pink Panther 2


The Pink Panther 2

Looks like Peter Sellers' memory is getting hosed again.

(2009) Comedy (MGM) Steve Martin, Jean Reno, John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Yuki Matsuzaki, Jeremy Irons, Johnnie Hallyday. Directed by Harald Zwart

Some movies shouldn’t have been remade, and once remade, they should never have generated sequels. However, upon rare occasion, the sequel turns out better than the original remake. Not so much the original original. Oh, my brain hurts!

Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin) has been relegated to traffic duty by his nemesis, the stiff-necked Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Cleese, taking over from Kevin Kline who played the role in the reboot – Herbert Lom made the role famous in the sequels to the original that were made more than a decade than the original, but almost 30 years before the reboot…did I mention my brain hurts?). As with most things, he makes a hash of it, delivering chaos without really intending to. However, that’s all about to change. A skilled thief who calls himself “the Tornado” has stolen such artifacts as the Shroud of Turin, the Magna Carta and the sword of the Japanese Emperor. Notice he didn’t go after anything American of value ; our national symbol perhaps, one that sums up our identity more than any other. I’m speaking of course of the Vince Lombardi Trophy given to the winner of the Super Bowl each year. Then again, if someone were to steal that, they’d have a hundred million angry football fans clamoring to kick their ass.

Um, moving along, the French prime minister fears that the Pink Panther, the national symbol of France (but was originally the symbol of the fictional country of Lugash in the original and its sequels and I think the reboot too but I can’t remember very well anymore because my brain is really beginning to hurt now), will be next. He wants Jacques Clouseau on the case, joining a dream team of international detectives that have been assigned to apprehending the thief. They are Vincenzo Doncorleone (Garcia), an Italian lothario; Kenji (Matsuzaki), a Japanese computer whiz; Pepperidge (Molina), a Sherlock Holmes-like analyzer of clues and Sonia (Rai Bachchan), the world’s foremost authority on the Tornado and damned gorgeous to boot.

Along for the ride is Nicole (Mortimer), Clouseau’s long-suffering and clearly smitten with him secretary, and Ponton (Reno), Clouseau’s long-suffering and able assistant inspector. They’ll question a retired jewel thief (Irons) and visit the Pope when the Tornado steals the papal signet ring from his finger while he’s asleep. Along the way there’ll be pratfalls, mistaken identities, property damage and romantic interludes. A restaurant will burn down – twice, and Nicole, tired of waiting for Clouseau to make a move, allows herself to be romanced by Vincenzo, especially after Clouseau disgraces himself by dressing up like the pope, appearing on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square and then proceeding to fall out of the balcony, giving billions of Catholics angina. But you know how things go in this kind of movie; no matter how big a buffoon he is, only Clouseau can save the day – even if he gets his ass handed to him by a couple of karate kids, an angry old lady and Lily Tomlin, who may have been angry but isn’t the old lady I was thinking about. Oh, my brain is exploding!

The original Pink Panther series had Peter Sellars as Clouseau and rightly or wrongly, that role is associated with him as much as James Bond is with Sean Connery and Harry Potter with Daniel Radcliffe. Some roles just leave indelible marks on the careers of an actor.

Remaking movies with other actors in those roles may bring people out for curiosity’s sake, particularly when the originator of the role is long dead, but it rarely ends up well. Most film lovers spend the entire movie comparing the performances (and usually the new guy doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt) and the studios, for their part, rarely see fit to spend much money or time on a project which is, to them, an attempt to milk a cash cow one last time.

Strangely, though, as bad as the first reboot of the series was, this one is slightly better. Martin has settled in a bit more to the Clouseau role, and while he can do the physical comedy required of the role, he seems better suited to the verbal buffoonery that comes from Clouseau’s impenetrable accent.

There are some charming moments, however; a re-teaming of All of Me co-stars Martin and Tomlin, the latter as a very politically correct instructor on…um, political correctness, something which the bumbling Clouseau can’t begin to comprehend, using racial and sexual slurs at nearly every turnpoint but with a guileless charm that makes it more like a child saying it. In the hands of a less gifted comedian, you might wind up despising Clouseau.

Unfortunately, this is a comedy and you kind of expect a few laughs. There are a few, but only a few; much of the movie seems very ill-timed and rushed, and you get the feeling that there was more of a sense of getting everything in the can so that the all-star cast could move on to more worthy pursuits. There’s nothing here that’s edgy or outrageous; for the most part, the comedy is as inoffensive as that of Father of the Bride, a like-minded Martin comedy that is also much better than this.

WHY RENT THIS: Pretty much non-offensive comedy that while not laugh-out-loud funny isn’t uncomfortably unfunny either. Rai is very pleasant to look at and some of the physical comedy bits were well-staged.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This isn’t very bad but it isn’t very good either. The movie degenerates into downright silliness often enough to be irritating.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some innuendo and a little bit of mild violence but otherwise this is suitable for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie in the franchise, either with Peter Sellers or without, that has had a number in the title.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Not a lot; there is a gag reel that might well be funnier than the movie, and a feature deconstructing some of the more physical comedy gags which was kind of interesting.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $76M on an unreported production budget; I doubt the budget was even $30M so I’d think this was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Signal

Robin Hood


Robin Hood

Never tell Russell Crowe that his rugby team sucks.

(Universal)  Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, William Hurt, Matthew Macfayden, Oscar Isaac, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Eileen Atkins, Lea Seydoux, Mark Addy, Douglas Hodge, Simon McBurney. Directed by Ridley Scott

The legend of Robin Hood is central to English mythology. The character has made regular appearances on the silver screen and television, from the carefree bandit of Errol Flynn to the Kevin Costner version, with the heavy-on-the-mystical BBC series “Robin of Sherwood” somewhere in between. So how does this Robin rate?

Robin Longstride (Crowe) is an archer finishing ten years of war in the Holy Land alongside Richard the Lion Heart (Huston), the English King beloved by his people. I use the term “alongside” loosely; Richard is King and Robin is a lowly foot soldier. In most circumstances, the King would never interact with a commoner such as Robin.

However, times being what they are for the King, he can’t resist sacking one last castle, this one in the land of England’s ancient enemy, France. The English coffers are nearly bare after having paid for ten years of constant war. One evening, Robin gets into a fight with fellow soldier John Little (Durand) which is witnessed by the King and the King’s good friend Sir Robert Loxley (Hodge). The King is impressed with the honesty and bravery of both men, but Robin can’t resist speaking his mind when the King asks him to. For his honest criticism, Robin, John and Robin’s good friends Will Scarlet (Grimes) and Alan A’Dayle (Doyle) are put in the stockade for future branding and whipping.

Unfortunately during the siege the King takes an arrow through the throat and expires, throwing the ranks of the English into chaos. Robin, recognizing the situation, has a friend free the four of them from the stocks and they hie themselves hence for the coast to find passage to England before Richard’s army gets there and take all the boats for themselves.

In the meantime, the King of France (an actor who, amazingly, has gone uncredited for the role as far as I can see) is scheming with the vicious Godfrey (Strong) to assassinate the King on his way back to the coast. Of course, this is moot at this point but when Godfrey springs his ambush it is Sir Robert that is caught, innocently returning the King’s crown to England. Robin and his merry men come upon the ambush and force the assassins to flee, but not before Robin sends an arrow whistling Godfrey’s way, scarring him on the cheek. Robin comforts the dying Loxley by promising to return his sword to his father, a sword he had taken without asking. The four manage to make it to the coast and brazen their way aboard the King’s flagship by pretending to be Knights (by stealing the armor and cloaks of the dead men at the ambush) and flashing the crown. While sailing across the channel, Robin notices an inscription on the sword: Rise and Rise Again Until Lambs Become Lions.

Meanwhile back in England, Prince John (Isaac) is cavorting with Isabella (Seydoux), niece of King Phillip, irritating his mother Ellen of Aquitaine (Atkins) no end, particularly since he is married to someone else. For most of the women in the audience this was a clear sign that John is an absolute jerk, although most royals of the time dallied pretty regularly – just another reason why, as Mel Brooks once said, it’s good to be the King. However, the party really starts when Robin – now masquerading as Robert Loxley – brings the sad news of the King’s demise, which elevates John onto the throne.

Times are hard in England and about to become harder. Taxes have just about bled the populace dry, even relatively wealthy former Knights like Walter Loxley (van Sydow) who, now well into his 80s, is blind and tended to by his son’s wife Marian (Blanchett). She is on the receiving end of the tender affections of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Macfayden) and is concerned that with all the good men of Nottingham away at war, too old, too young or broken, that the town will not survive the winter. With the new Friar Tuck (Addy) taking over the local church from the ambitious Father Tancred (McBurney) who is departing for York with all the seed grain for the town in his possession, which will make the coming harvest difficult with nothing to plant. Things look bad for Nottingham and they get worse when Robin arrives with the news of Robert’s death. However, Walter seems to recognize the name of Robin and in exchange for the sword he had just brought back, agrees to tell Robin about his past.

In order to keep the crown from seizing their property (because in England at the time only sons could inherit and with Walter’s dead, Marian would lose the farm as it were), Walter asks Robin to masquerade as his son and Marian’s husband in order to maintain the illusion that there was proper succession for the property. Robin agrees, having taken a shine to Marian (who of course doesn’t care much for Robin) and things get idyllic for a little while.

However, John has made the critical mistake of trusting Godfrey with the chancellorship of England, after sending the current chancellor William Marshall (Hurt) back home. Godfrey, who aims to start a civil war by using extreme brutality in the North, takes an army to cause mischief. He does this by importing a small army of Phillip’s men. Once England is in chaos, Phillip will invade and take the divided country with a minimum of fuss. England needs a leader more than ever – and a legend will be born.

This is the most unusual Robin Hood you’re ever likely to see. There is no stealing from the rich to give to the poor and very little of Sherwood Forest. There is no swashbuckling or derring-do; Russell Crowe is not the first name I’d call for actors who do that kind of thing. Crowe is more of a brooder and his Robin of the Hood does a whole lot of that; at least when he’s not perforating, slicing or dicing the French.

However, Blanchett makes a marvelous Marian, full of spunk and steel. She essentially runs the Loxley estate and takes no crap from anyone; if anyone tries to touch her, she’ll emasculate them as she tells Robin (or worse, as one of Godfrey’s men finds out later). She is elegant when she needs to be, rough and tumble when she has to be and feminine throughout.

Von Sydow is terrific in his role as the aging Knight, bringing his career full circle in some respects – you may be reminded that he once played a knight of the crusades who plays chess against death in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and while the roles are nothing alike, I was reminded of it somewhat perversely. Regardless, von Sydow is nearing the end of his own career and yet remains as much a force as he has always been.

Strong, for my money, is the best villain working in the business today (although Danny Huston may give him a run for his money). Bald and scarred, he just looks terrifying without saying a word. Ambitious and amoral, his Godfrey would sell his mother if it would get him ahead – not that there’s much of a market for that sort of thing.

There are some very good action sequences, particularly the climactic battle between the French and the English. The movie is well over two hours long but still felt like it was missing some pieces; I got the distinct impression that there were some scenes that might have better explained things in the movie that were left on the cutting room floor, although if there are they will certainly wind up on the “Director’s Cut” edition that is sure to follow on the home video front.

This is more of an origin story than any Robin Hood to date, and more or less sets the tone of the times. There is no Errol Flynn leaping out of a tree, giving a jaunty salute and exclaiming “Welcome to Sherwood” with a twinkle in his eyes. This is a cross between Braveheart and Gladiator with a healthy dose of Kingdom of Heaven; the last two of which, not un-coincidentally, were directed by Scott as well. Like most films of the 21st century, this version of the character wallows in the dark side, brooding like the Renaissance Faire edition of Bruce Wayne. That’s okay by me, even if it’s becoming a little cliché. Still, I can’t fault a filmmaker for trying a new take on a venerable character as long as the essence of who that character is remains intact and I think Ridley Scott succeeds in that regard. This may not be your father’s Robin, or even your grandfather’s but it is Robin Hood nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: A different take on the Robin Hood legend with a bit of political intrigue. Blanchett is magnificent as Marian, and von Sydow is delightful in a supporting role. Mark Strong may be the best villain in the movies at the moment.

REASONS TO STAY: You get the feeling a good deal of exposition hit the cutting room floor. Crowe broods too much at times.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence, particularly of the battlefield variety, as well as some suggestion of sexuality and rape; there’s enough here that I’d think twice about bringing the impressionable sorts but most mature teens should be able to handle it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The tune whistled by Godfrey as a pass code to the French soldiers is “Frere Jacques.”  

HOME OR THEATER: Certainly the climactic battle should be seen on the big screen, but much of the movie foregoes the epic scope.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Cinema365 will be on temporary hiatus while I am vacationing in China. We will resume our daily movie reviews, previews and features starting on Friday, June 4th with a review of Soul Men.