Iron Man 2 Jon Favreau’s much-anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough 2008 blockbuster is less a comic book flick than it is a superhero version of Arthur the Oscar-nominated 1981 comedy that starred Dudley Moore as a drunken wise-cracking dilettante. In his second turn as Tony Stark Robert Downey Jr. recasts the billionaire inventor as the Dean Martin of industrialists strutting from one star-studded event to another on a bacchanalian victory tour dishing out choice one-liners and stirring up minor controversies for his exasperated babysitters Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to quell. Whether gloating about his achievements at a defense industry expo upbraiding Senators during a congressional hearing or getting wasted and donning his armored powersuit to play DJ at his birthday party there's no telling what kind of madcap mischief Tony Stark will get himself into next!
The Tony Stark Comedy Tour for what it’s worth is a supremely entertaining ride (credit screenwriter Justin Theroux at the very least with crafting the genre’s most quotable film of all time) but I’m fairly certain Iron Man 2 is supposed to be an action film not the Marvel Follies Variety Show. Surely there must be a supervillain lurking in the shadows a frighteningly powerful menace preparing to unleash its destructive might upon the world?
There is — well kind of. The primary antagonist of Iron Man 2 Mickey Rourke's hulking Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash) is certainly a fearsome beast baring his blinged-out grill and electrified tentacles but he gets all of five minutes of meaningful screen time in the sequel — hardly enough to establish him as a worthy foe for the great Iron Man. Perhaps producers found Rourke’s chosen dialect learned from John Malkovich's Rounders School of Exaggerated Russian Accents (“I vant my bort!” he furiously declares when separated from his pet parrot) to be less compelling in post-production.
More likely they became enamored with Sam Rockwell in the role of Justin Hammer Stark’s resentful business rival and Whiplash’s principal financial backer. It’s certainly understandable. Exuding the hubris and insecurity of a sardonic Mark Cuban (but capable of amusing us with more than just an underachieving basketball team) his performance is easily the best of the film surpassing even that of the great Downey. (Which makes perfect fodder for conspiracy theorists who wonder why Rockwell was the only member of the main cast not to get his own poster.)
The only problem is Rockwell’s Hammer is a venture capitalist not a comic book supervillain and every second he spends on the screen — as enjoyable as it is — is a second that could have been devoted to dimensionalizing Rourke’s character or crafting a badly-needed action sequence to enliven the talky second act.
It’s little wonder then that Stark continues with his feckless self-destructive ways unconcerned with the threat posed by the Hammer/Whiplash collaboration. He's got bigger problems to worry about — namely his inability to find a suitable replacement for palladium the substance inside the Arc Reactor that powers both his suit and his heart and which also happens to be slowly killing him.
Thankfully Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. arrive at his compound to stage a kind of intervention bearing a powerful dual-pronged Deus Ex Machina device that instantly wrests our hero from his para-suicidal stupor — just in time to build the upgraded powersuit he’ll need to thwart the army of powerful robot drones that Whiplash is about to let loose upon on the unsuspecting citizens of Queens New York. Whew! Favreau steps up the action and delivers a suitably big finish but don't blink when Iron Man and Whiplash meet on the battlefield because you might just miss it.
Given that Iron Man 2’s director and writer have both spent the bulk of their movie careers employed as actors it comes as little surprise that they chose to focus the action on Downey and Rockwell as the two rank head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. I just wish they found room in between the one-liners for a few more explosions.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Constructed as an homage of sorts to the classic “opposites attract” screwball comedies of old The Ugly Truth stars Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up TV’s Grey's Anatomy) as Abby Richter an ambitious Type A news producer for the local morning talk show A.M. Sacramento. Abby’s uncompromising approach to news gathering is surpassed only by her uncompromising approach to dating; as a result she’s chronically single and her show’s ratings are in the toilet. So when her boss insists that she take on Mike Chadway the brash obnoxious host of a cable-access relationship-oriented talk show as a new correspondent Abby has little choice but to accept despite her misgivings about Mike’s unabashed chauvinism. Though ratings for A.M. Sacramento immediately spike with the addition of Mike Abby remains unconvinced as to the efficacy of his politically incorrect (read: misogynist) dating advice. Chastened by Abby’s continued skepticism Mike makes her a wager: If she applies his tools and doesn’t successfully turn around her moribund dating life he’ll quit the show. Abby agrees initiating a sexually charged battle of wits between the two strident adversaries.
WHO’S IN IT?
Facing off against Heigl is Gerard Butler the man who once roared “We are Sparta!” as the infinitely badass King Leonidas in the sword-and-sandals epic 300. Unfortunately Butler followed up the 2006 blockbuster with the weepy chick flick P.S. I Love You then the limp action fantasy Nim’s Island. And while he did manage to redeem himself as a cocky British gangster in Guy Ritchie’s comeback RocknRolla Butler takes a sad U-turn with The Ugly Truth falling to emasculating new lows in this insipid romantic comedy. Supporting castmembers include Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) John Michael Higgins (Yes Man Best in Show) Bree Turner (Just My Luck) and Eric Winter (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay).
Butler and Heigl are both tremendously charming camera-friendly actors (no one has perfected the art of “sexily flustered” better than Heigl) and they do exhibit a fun lively chemistry at times during The Ugly Truth. Unfortunately they’re given precious little to work with and are forced to subsist on the few morsels of quality material the script provides.
Director Robert Luketic (21 Monster-in-Law Legally Blonde) has always been a strict adherent to the modern style-over-substance school of filmmaking and The Ugly Truth is suitably glossy and slick. But damned if it isn’t the most uninspired unfunny unsexy sitcom rip-off to grace theaters in recent memory. If Luketic devoted half as much time to punching up the script as he did to lovingly photographing boy toy Eric Winter he might actually have a decent movie on his hands.
Oy that’s a tough one. The closing credits would be too obvious a choice so let’s instead go with whichever scene immediately preceded the closing credits.
Heigl gets to show off her orgasm-faking skills during a scene in which she inadvertently turns on a pair of vibrating underpants (don’t ask me to explain) at a dinner with corporate execs. Interestingly enough it’s her least sexy moment in the film.
It’s been 45 years since Peter Sellers was unleashed as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the delicious Pink Panther. That 1963 film spawned numerous sequels and cartoons and in 2006 the baton was passed to Steve Martin -- who hatched a worldwide hit with his version of the French detective. In this meandering gag-laden sequel Martin is assigned to join a team of other famed international detectives and crime wizards to crack a case where priceless treasures are being stolen around the globe including of course the iconic Pink Panther diamond. Again aiding Clouseau in his own cause are his partner Panton (Jean Reno) and Nicole (Emily Mortimer) for whom he still has those amorous feelings. Let’s face it no one could top Sellers in this role and it’s wise that Martin doesn’t really try instead taking the character more toward The Jerk. Whether inadvertently burning restaurants down to the ground juggling wine bottles (in a particularly lame sequence) mangling the English language imitating the Pope or spouting hopelessly politically incorrect bon mots like calling an Asian colleague “my little yellow friend ” Martin plays it broadly and safely. As the quartet of international detectives brought in to solve the case with Clouseau Andy Garcia Alfred Molina Yuki Matsuzaki and gorgeous Aishwarya Rai Bachchan do everything they can to keep from being totally upstaged by Martin’s nonstop antics but it ain’t easy for any of them. Also of note: John Cleese takes Kevin Kline's place as Clouseau’s exasperated boss and Lily Tomlin Martin’s All of Me co-star are reunited here to teach him properly correct social etiquette. With a cast of capable comic veterans like this all any director would have to do is point the camera and make sure it’s in focus. And that seems to be ALL Dutch helmer Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks) has done. The PP template has been dumbed down to appeal to young kids and despite its picaresque Paris and Rome locations this comes off as surprisingly flat with a lot of comic possibility left twisting in the wind.