More Panda-monium in Kung Fu Panda 2, The Double Hour is tricky business

by Mark Burger

Another week, another sequel. And there are more to come this summer.

The first Kung Fu Panda (2008) was hardly a classic, but it was enjoyable and, perhaps more importantly, a box-office and merchandising bonanza — surpassing even the studio’s expectations. It even copped an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

One needn’t open a fortune cookie to guess what happens next… Kung Fu Panda 2 .

Like its predecessor, Kung Fu Panda is no classic, but it ought to keep the kids happy.

There’s a little bit of Chinese history, a little bit of Chinese mythology and a lot of slapstick “panda”-monium. There are some good jokes throughout, the majority of them are aimed squarely at children. For the grown-ups, the eye-popping visual presentation alone is hardly an unpleasant way to spend 95 minutes (whether in 2-D or 3-D), even if the storyline is fairly simplistic.

Jack Black again brings his customary manic energy, if only in voice, to the character of Po, the irrepressible panda bear with kungfu fever. Comfortably ensconced as the hero known as “Dragon Warrior,” he must return to action in an effort to defeat Shen (voice by Gary Oldman), a ruthless peacock bent on conquering China. Shen has perfected the art of explosives, and the extremely large cannon he possesses is his weapon of choice. How can kung fu compete against so incendiary a device?

Po’s confrontation with Shen will also entrail a confrontation with his own past, which figures prominently in these proceedings. To defeat Shen, save China and discovery his own identity, Po must perfect the art of achieving inner peace. (The martial-arts spiritualism exemplified here is undoubtedly on the light side.)

Black, Oldman and Angelina Jolie (as Tigress) have the most dialogue, and there’s a delightful turn by James Hong as Po’s father, Mr. Ping. It’s one of the film’s funnier conceits that, until now, Po never really took into account that he is a panda and Mr. Ping a goose, and are thereby entirely different species. Yes, Po is adopted — but this “revelation” is handled in a fashion that’s amusing without being insulting.

Other familiar voices, some encoring from the first film, include those of Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Danny McBride, Dennis

Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Michelle Yeoh. None of them have much to do except, perhaps, try not to get drowned out by the others.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the final scene in the movie leans about as heavily as possible toward the possibility of another installment. If the makers can make it as bubbly and fun and visually enticing as the first two films… it wouldn’t be an unwelcome trilogy.

Let’s go, Po!

Giuseppe Captondi’s award-winning puzzler The Double Hour is the sort of movie in which nothing is as it initially seems — the advertisements even say as much — and that applies particularly to its principal character, Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), who is alternately victim, vixen and villain — and sometimes more than one at a time.

Sonia is a lonely chambermaid who works at a hotel in Turin. During a singles’ event, she meets ex-cop

Guido (Filippo Timi) and a relationship begins to blossom, only to be tragically cut short when Guido is murdered and Sonia injured in a robbery that seems remarkably calculated for a supposedly random act.

It soon becomes apparent during Sonia’s recovery that something’s not quite right. Death seems to have a habit of following her. Fragments of (imaginary?) memories plague her dreams. People around her treat her condescendingly, some lasciviously. The police detective Dante (the delightful Michele Di Maura), an old friend of Guido’s as it turns out, dogs her every move.

Sonia’s paranoia turns out to be well justified, but its origins prove elusive and transitory throughout. Screenwriters Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo delight in shuffling the deck and lobbing plot twists in a mostly successful attempt to keep the audience off-balance.

At certain points toward the end it almost seems as if the story will turn in on itself and implode. This sort of film is very much a house of cards, and must be maintained and sustained with some delicacy. Yet The Double Hour (La Doppia Ora) is well-paced enough and wellacted enough (particularly by Rappoport) that it maintains its footing until the fade-out and the last, inevitable (?) twist.

(In Italian with English subtitles)