Hugh Grant steals the screen in newest ‘Paddington’

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By M.V. Moorhead

As far as I know, this is the first crime thriller about the theft of a pop-up book. The title bear wants to buy the one-of-a kind tome, you see, as a gift for his adored Aunt back
in “darkest Peru.”

Alas, before he’s saved up enough of his pay as a window-washer to make the purchase, the book is filched from the antiques store by a mysterious burglar, and Paddington is suspected of the heist and thrown in jail.

The real culprit—it’s revealed early on, but stop reading now if you don’t want the “spoiler”—is a crackbrained, down-on-his-luck actor played by Hugh Grant, who knows, as Paddington does not, that the pop-up book contains clues to the location of a hidden treasure.

So as Paddington struggles to negotiate the perils of prison life and his upper-middle-class adoptive London family searches for evidence of his innocence, the thespian gets closer and closer to claiming the loot.

Michael Bond’s beloved bear, with his blue coat, floppy red hat and love of marmalade, has been a mainstay of Brit kiddie-lit since the late ‘50s. Bond, who died this past year (Paddington 2 is dedicated to him) claimed that the character’s inspiration came, in part, from the sight of tagged children on railway platforms being evacuated from London during WWII.

There have been several animated TV series based on Bond’s tales, but the first feature film was a 2014 live-action effort, with a CGI Paddington excellently voiced by Ben Wishaw.

That movie had plenty of charm, but it was marred, for me severely, by the introduction of
a Cruella de Vil-like villainess played by Nicole Kidman, an obsessed taxidermist who, lacking a specimen of Ursa Marmalada in her collection, wanted to stuff Paddington.

This nastiness felt really out of place in the gentle context of the movie. Paddington 2 is a major improvement. Directed, like the first film, by Paul King of the marvelous Brit TV comedy The Mighty Boosh, the sequel features lengthy, complex slapstick sequences in the
sprit of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati, executed by Paddington (Wishaw again) with similarly earnest absorption.

And its softer and sillier villain hits just the right note, without taking too much of an edge off the picture.

It does, after all, contain the line, spoken by a security guard at St. Paul’s, “A nun went beserk.” And that cast!

Returning from the first film are Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi and Jim Broadbent, joined here by the likes of Brendan Gleeson, as Paddington’s tough-guy prison mentor, Tom Conti, Joanna Lumley and Eileen Atkins, billed here as Dame Eileen Atkins if you please.

It’s a testament to the bear’s iconic status over there that that sort of A-list talent could be
assembled for a kiddie-movie sequel. Stealing the picture from all of them is Grant, who turns his no-good greedy ham into a star part.

He gets to use a variety of accents and wear cunning disguises—including as that aforementioned “very attractive nun.”

He even gets to perform a full Sondheim number.

Paddington 2 is rated PG and plays at Harkins Tempe Marketplace, Harkins Chandler Fashion 20, Harkins Arizona Mills and many other multiplexes Valleywide.

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