Mayhem, yes, but there's little mirth

Posted: February 06, 2009

There's a wonderful clue in The Pink Panther 2 as to why - apart from a paycheck and a trip to Paris - Steve Martin took to the idea of remaking Peter Sellers' famously silly Inspector Clouseau series.

Martin's innocently inept French detective has invited his secretary, Nicole (a French-accented Emily Mortimer), out for a romantic dinner. Insisting on choosing his own wine, Clouseau heads to the restaurant's rack of vintage bottles, plucks one, then another, until the shelf teeters and the bottles start to fly. Like the star of a classic silent-era comedy, Martin becomes the balletic nincompoop - juggling a dizzying deluge of pricey wines, trying to keep the bottles from smashing to the floor.

It's terrific physical comedy - funny, deft, visually alive.

Alas, the scene is like an oasis in the desert of knuckleheadedness that is The Pink Panther 2. Inspired by the Blake Edwards films, with a new animated opening-credits sequence and that familiar Henry Mancini theme, PP2 begins with the thefts of some famous objets: the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, Japan's Imperial Sword and France's "Pink Panther" diamond - all lifted by someone who leaves a calling card, The Tornado.

An international team of super-sleuths is assembled to solve the case: an Italian detective (Andy Garcia), a Brit (Alfred Molina), a Japanese (Yuki Matsuzaki) and a Frenchman - oui, Clouseau.

John Cleese replaces Kevin Kline as Clouseau's flustered superior, Dreyfuss (Cleese does one bit of Basil Fawlty-esque headbanging), and the beautiful Aishwarya Rai is onboard as a jewelry expert recruited to help look for the absconded jewel.

Although comic mayhem follows Martin's Clouseau everywhere, as he wreaks havoc at the Vatican, sets a restaurant ablaze, and causes traffic nightmares as he steers his Smart car through Paris, none of it is particularly funny. Martin and Molina have one jolly scene of nonsensical insult-hurling, Jeremy Irons makes an appearance as a snooty suspect, and Jean Reno and Mortimer reprise their respective roles from Martin's first (2006) Pink Panther redo.

The director is Harald Zwart, a Norwegian-gone-Hollywood whose resume includes Frankie Munoz and Hilary Duff's Agent Cody Banks, and who has reportedly been assigned the task of remaking The Karate Kid. The director seems to be aiming for the same age demographics with The Pink Panther 2. That's about the level of humor: subteen.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

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