Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

The not-so-funny funniest moment in “The Pink Panther 2,” the second installment of the beloved franchise since its resurrection three years ago with Steve Martin as the vainglorious, bumbling French inspector Jacques Clouseau, takes place at the Vatican. The pope has just had a priceless ruby ring snatched off his finger by a thief who has already stolen the Magna Carta, the Japanese imperial sword and the Shroud of Turin. (Somewhere along the line the Pink Panther diamond, a symbol of France, is also pilfered once again.)

As a so-called dream team of investigators from Britain (Alfred Molina), Japan (Yuki Matsuzaki) and Italy (Andy Garcia) question the pope, Clouseau rummages through a closet stuffed with papal vestments, impulsively tries one on and rushes to the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Leaning forward to bestow a blessing, he loses his footing, tumbles head first from the balcony and clings to a flagpole, robes flapping along with his arms and legs.

Such hoary slapstick routines, invariably rushed, are all there is in “The Pink Panther 2,” a movie whose remaining cast list — John Cleese (replacing Kevin Kline from the first installment), Lily Tomlin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, the Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai Bachchan — suggests something a little more refined than this hodgepodge of juvenile pranks.

Ms. Tomlin’s character, Mrs. Berenger, a spinoff of her Tasteful Lady, represents the movie’s only attempt to be a comedy of manners. A police instructor on etiquette, she tutors Clouseau, whose every third sentence is a sexist or racist slur — as when she overhears him saying to his Japanese colleague, “I suppose you will be wanting sushi, my little yellow friend” — on politically correct speech.

It is tempting to think of the revived franchise as the sort of misbegotten renovation that can take place when an architectural landmark, say, the original Pennsylvania Station, is replaced by a banal, anonymous structure. The original “Pink Panther” movies, I should hasten to add, were hardly landmarks. Respectable comedies with a modicum of sophistication, they were anchored by the presence of Peter Sellers, a comic genius whose every tic suggested an upheaval of subversive mischief.

As much as I admire Mr. Martin’s cooler brand of comedy, his Clouseau lacks the demonic glee Mr. Sellers put into a character who seemed to originate from the inside out. Mr. Martin’s Clouseau is a skillful gloss right down to the phony French accent, which lacks the layers of oratorical pretension Mr. Sellers put into it. Why is it, I wonder, that any number of actors can play James Bond, while Clouseau now and forever belongs to Mr. Sellers?

Although the stunts come thick and fast in “The Pink Panther 2,” they are jammed together in a way that gives most of them barely enough time to register. The director Harald Zwart, taking over from Shawn Levy, has so little trust in his routines and in the audience’s attention span that none is allowed to develop into a belly-laughing classic.

In no particular order these are some of those gags: Clouseau accidentally burns down the same restaurant twice. Posing as a flamenco dancer, he tramples on his partner’s feet. While ineptly sleuthing around in the mansion of a suspect (Jeremy Irons), he is unknowingly captured on surveillance cameras and ends up falling down a chimney. Exploring a rack of expensive wines in a snooty restaurant, he nearly tips it over, and the bottles sliding from their niches become pins in a mammoth juggling exhibition. He bungles at karate with the sons of his sidekick Ponton (Jean Reno). He goes haywire with a fire extinguisher.

Mr. Martin works hard to get the few laughs he can from such strenuous business. He seems to be having a reasonably good time. But this is the stuff of the Three Stooges. That’s all well and good if you know what not to expect.

“The Pink Panther 2” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). It has mild sexual innuendo.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Harald Zwart; written by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin, based on a story by Mr. Neustadter and Mr. Weber and the “Pink Panther” films of Blake Edwards; director of photography, Denis Crossan; edited by Julia Wong; music by Christophe Beck, “Pink Panther” theme by Henry Mancini; production designer, Rusty Smith; produced by Robert Simonds; released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Steve Martin (Clouseau), Jean Reno (Ponton), Alfred Molina (Pepperidge), Emily Mortimer (Nicole), Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Sonia), Andy Garcia (Vicenzo), Yuki Matsuzaki (Kenji), Lily Tomlin (Mrs. Berenger), John Cleese (Dreyfus) and Jeremy Irons (Avellaneda).


Friday, February 6, 2009

Coraline (2009) - NY Times review

There are many scenes and images in “Coraline” that are likely to scare children. This is not a warning but rather a recommendation, since the cultivation of fright can be one of the great pleasures of youthful moviegoing. As long as it doesn’t go too far toward violence or mortal dread, a film that elicits a tingle of unease or a tremor of spookiness can be a tonic to sensibilities dulled by wholesome, anodyne, school-approved entertainments.

Books, these days, often do a better job than movies of parceling out juvenile terror. There is plenty of grisly screen horror out there for teenagers, of course, but younger children are more amply served by fiction from the likes of R. L. Stine, Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, on whose fast-moving, suspenseful novel “Coraline” is based. The film, an exquisitely realized 3-D stop-motion animated feature directed and written by Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach”) has a slower pace and a more contemplative tone than the novel. It is certainly exciting, but rather than race through ever noisier set pieces toward a hectic climax in the manner of so much animation aimed at kids, “Coraline” lingers in an atmosphere that is creepy, wonderfully strange and full of feeling.

Its look and mood may remind adult viewers at various times of the dreamscapes of Tim Burton (with whom Mr. Selick worked on “Nightmare”), Guillermo del Toro and David Lynch. Like those filmmakers Mr. Selick is interested in childhood not as a condition of sentimentalized, passive innocence but rather as an active, seething state of receptivity in which consciousness itself is a site of wondrous, at times unbearable drama.

The governing emotion, at the beginning, is loneliness. A smart, brave girl named Coraline Jones, voiced by Dakota Fanning, has recently moved from Michigan to an apartment in a big pink Victorian house somewhere in Oregon. She is at an age when the inadequacy of her parents starts to become apparent, and Coraline’s stressed-out, self-absorbed mom and dad (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), who write about gardening, barely look up from their computer screens when she’s in the room. And so, like many a children’s book heroine before her, Coraline sets out to explore her curious surroundings, interweaving the odd details of everyday reality with the bright threads of imagination. She is accompanied from time to time by a local boy (Robert Bailey Jr.) and a talking cat (Keith David).

Like the best fantasy writers Mr. Gaiman does not draw too firm a boundary between the actual and the magical, allowing the two realms to shadow and influence each other. Mr. Selick, for his part, is so wantonly inventive and so psychologically astute that even Coraline’s dull domestic reality is tinted with enchantment. Her neighbors are a collection of eccentrics whose physical peculiarities match their quirks of character. Upstairs there is a Russian circus artist with the rasping voice of Ian McShane, while below a pair of aging burlesque performers twitter and chirp in the giddy tones of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, queens of British TV comedy.

A secret door in the wall, which opens only at night, leads Coraline to a parallel world that at first seems to fulfill her sad heart’s every desire. The versions of her parents who live there — a queen-bee “other mother” and her agreeable mate — are warm and attentive, and the pink house is a wild wonderland where gardens bloom in moonlight and every visit discloses new amusements. The oddball neighbors are there, in altered form, to enthrall Coraline with nightly spectacles — a dream vaudeville that will transfix the movie’s audience as well.

The 3-D aspects of “Coraline” are unusually subtle. Now and then stuff is flung off the screen into your face, but the point is not to make you duck or shriek. Instead Mr. Selick uses the technology to make his world deeper and more intriguing. And of course the stop-motion technique he uses, based on sculptured figures rather than drawn images, is already a kind of three-dimensional animation. The glasses you put on are thus not a gimmick but an aid to seeing what’s already there.

And what is there, on the screen, is almost too much to absorb in one sitting: costumed mice and Scottish terriers; glowing blossoms and giant insects. The “other” world Coraline explores is fascinating, but also unsettling. Everyone there has buttons for eyes, like homemade dolls, and if she wants to stick around, Coraline will have to become like them.

This simple, horrifying operation — foreshadowed in the haunting opening title sequence — unlocks a cellarful of psychological implications. It would be too simple to say that the door in the wall leads directly to the unconscious. Mr. Selick is hardly a doctrinaire Freudian, but he does grasp the intimate connection between fairy tales and the murky, occult power of longing, existential confusion and misplaced desire. “Coraline” explores the predatory implications of parental love — that other mother is a monster of misplaced maternal instinct — but is grounded in the pluck and common sense of its heroine, who is resilient, ingenious and magically real.

“Coraline” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). There are many scenes and images that are likely to scare young children.

By A. O. SCOTT -

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