Steve Martin continues to be a revered comedy icon even 10 years after his last relevant comedy (that would be Bowfinger), but even he knew he needed some help to get anyone to accept a second remake of the classic Peter Sellers Pink Panther films. So for The Pink Panther 2, Martin stacks the deck with talented comedians and actors from across the globe. Emily Mortimer and Jean Reno are back, John Cleese has replaced Kevin Kline as Clouseau's nemesis Inspector Dreyfus, and Alfred Molina and Andy Garcia have joined as international investigators brought to France when, once again, the Pink Panther diamond is lifted. Add in Aishwarya Rai as a mysterious diamond expert, Lily Tomlin as an etiquette teacher and Jeremy Irons as a suspected culprit, and it's a cast that would make anything worth watching.
Anything except The Pink Panther 2, that is. The movie that brings together all these stars is a dull and obvious comedy that either squanders the talent of its cast or leaves them to founder within the scrambled and episodic screenplay. Decent pratfalls and physical gags will take you a long way, but there needs to be some semblance of wit and coherence to keep viewers older than 10 interested. Harald Zwart steps in for director Shawn Levy here, but his poor sense of comedic timing and lack of visual style may have only made matters worse.
When the film opens Inspector Clouseau (Martin) has been relegated to parking meter duty after winning a Medal of Honor at the end of the last film, with Dreyfus hoping to keep him out of the office and out of the way. But when the Pink Panther is stolen, along with priceless artifacts from Italy, Japan and England, Clouseau is the obvious choice to join the international Dream Team charged with recovering the items. There's a Brit (Molina), an Italian (Garcia) and a Japanese whiz kid (Yuki Matsuzaki), all of them exasperated by Clouseau's ego and clumsiness. The Italian is more interested Clouseau's secretary Nicole (Mortimer), whom he woos even while Nicole and Clouseau refuse to acknowledge their mutual crushes.
Joined by jewel expert Sonia (Rai), the Dream Team travels the globe on the trail of the mysterious thief The Tornado. Each location is essentially just a new opportunity for a Clouseau pratfall. He runs atop a giant globe in a mansion, he falls off the Pope's balcony, he burns down a restaurant in Rome. The physical gags, as tired as they may be, work a whole lot better than the French jokes, which once again find Clouseau unable to pronounce "hamburger" and, in his scenes with Tomlin, constantly ogling women. The goal seems to be to establish some kind of witty repartee among the assorted comic legends, but all the verbal scenes are draggy and obvious, making Tomlin's presence, for the first time ever, unwanted.
Mortimer brings some sparkle as the dopey and devoted Nicole, and Molina especially makes a fun opponent for Clouseau, as in one early scene where the two size each other up by lobbing random insults like "You were 14 before you learned to enjoy the taste of avocado!" Reno, though his character lurks weirdly on the sidelines for most of the film, gets a beautifully bizarre song-and-dance scene with Martin. You get the sense that, in a better movie with more ambition, the audience could be having as much fun as the stars did behind the scenes.
Once I was watching The Office on DVD, and spent 10 minutes watching deleted scenes before I realized it wasn't the actual episode. The Pink Panther 2 is pretty much the same experience, making you wonder if there's a cut of the film that doesn't linger so needlessly on Clouseau's love triangle, or leaves out the scenes (Clouseau karate fights with tweens?) that have nothing to do with the plot. But apparently Martin and Zwart really did want to make a movie this aimless and derivative, aware that their target audience of children won't know what they're missing. Would that the rest of us could be so lucky.
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