Gallic guffaws: Steve Martin in Pink Panther 2.
Martin’s first brush with the character, in the 2006
reboot The Pink Panther, was a likable enough homage that
earned respectable box-office grosses ($82 million domestic, with
foreign audiences chipping in $76 million), although it wasn’t that
overwhelming a success that had audiences screaming for more. But with
the film industry on the lookout for repeatable franchises instead of
searching for the fresh and unfamiliar, that means Martin must trot out
his funny mustache and Gallic lisp and get all wild and crazy for this
sequel’s silly sleuthing.
This go-round concerns a master burglar
known as the Tornado, who is ripping off global treasures like the
Shroud of Turin and even the pope’s ring. An international batch of
detectives known as “the dream team” (an obvious O.J. reference) is
summoned to crack the case, including the British stuffed-shirt
Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Italian horndog Vicenzo (Andy Garcia) and
the inscrutable Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki), plus sideline decoration from
the sultry Sonia (Bollywood bombshell Aishwarya Rai Bachchan).
Elsewhere in the scenario, Clouseau becomes jealous when his pretty
police associate Nicole (series returnee Emily Mortimer) is the target
of Vicenzo’s amorous advances, while Clouseau’s detective partner
Ponton (The Professional’s Jean Reno, likewise back for more) is on the outs with his spouse and must crash at Jacques’ place.
Martin is so talented on screen that he
can make nearly anyone look good behind the camera, like pseudo-auteur
Adam Shankman for Bringing Down the House and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. But it’s been a long time since he’s been guided by more committed filmmakers such as Frank Oz (1999’s Bowfinger, 1992’s Housesitter, 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors), Ron Howard (1989’s Parenthood) and the quadruple bill with Carl Reiner (The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man with Two Brains and All of Me) that helped define Martin’s screen persona.
Martin lets himself down, however, with
the uneven plot that he concocted with Scott Neustadter and Michael H.
Weber, a sporadically amusing affair that lacks the silky
sophistication that permeated Edwards’ works. New at the helm is Harald
Zwart (Agent Cody Banks, replacing 2006’s Pink Panther director Shawn Levy, who was reportedly too busy prepping the upcoming Night at the Museum
follow-up. (Levy does share a credit as executive producer.) Only their
mothers could divine the differences between their directorial
approaches; they’re all about quickly hitting the gags and moving on,
without much concern over funny build-ups and resonant payoffs, which
is all that today’s synapse-challenged generation could ask for.
Yet even Edwards’ weaker efforts had
some degree of elegant comedic craft that Hollywood’s current directors
are unable to replicate; much of Zwart’s Pink Panther 2 instead
offers a simple trade-off on those rose-colored memories of both Peter
Sellers and composer Henry Mancini’s distinctive theme music. And
several bits of business flake out during the running time, such as the
running gag with Martin’s All of Me co-star Lily Tomlin as an instructor who shows Clouseau the evils of political incorrectness.
Nevertheless, Martin does everything he can to prevent Pink Panther 2
from flatlining, with pratfalls and malapropisms aplenty (he even drags
out again the tortured “hamburger” mispronunciation from the 2006
edition), and his expert delivery of Clouseau’s clueless ripostes (upon
discovering the pope’s ring, the inspector declares, “His wife will be
glad to get that back.”) Yet there’s an early sight gag in which the
slow-burn Chief Inspector Dreyfus (played by John Cleese, a replacement
for Kevin Kline in the 2006 flick) bangs his head against the wall upon
learning that Clouseau is on the case. Fawlty Towers fans will enjoy Cleese’s self-referential bit, although Pink Panther
buffs may want to also join in when this sequel ends, frustrated that
this OK time-killer isn’t in the same league as the old Sellers-Edwards
MGM Home Entertainment’s DVD offers a
1.85:1 letterboxed ratio, no commentary track and a trio of extras: a
three-minute gag reel; an eight-minute probe of the movie’s pratfalls
and stunts; and a 14-minute meet-the-cast puff piece with Cleese
contributing some funny deadpan moments like “the cast of actors I’m
working with are a very inflated, unpleasant lot.” A bonus DVD,
however, is the 2006 disc Pranks in the Pink, offering three
hours of 27 Pink Panther theatrical cartoons released by United Artists
during the mid-1960s, all supervised by veteran animator Friz Freleng.
The toons, starting with the 1964 Academy Award-winning short subject The Pink Phink,
are filled with abstract color schemes and inspired bits of business
that are driven by variations of Mancini’s catchy theme, which never
wears out its welcome. (Mancini, incidentally, makes a live-action
curtain call in the entry Pink, Plunk, Plink.)