Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The dreadful 2006 prequel/remake of “The Pink Panther” turned out to be a travesty of a once splendid slapstick franchise about the world’s most incompetent French detective. The late British comic Peter Sellers created Inspector Jacques Clouseau back in 1963 for director Blake Edwards in the original “Pink Panther” with David Niven and Robert Wagner. Watching Sellers mangle the language while performing his silly shenanigans made for a sidesplitting experience. Steve Martin tried to imitate Clouseau’s clowning in “The Pink Panther” and for the most part stumbled through the role. Indeed, he managed to salvage a moment or two with his bumbling bravado, ridiculous accent, and a naughty word. The biggest change between Sellers’ Clouseau and Martin’s Clouseau is that Martin’s Clouseau has moments of blinding brilliance that Sellers’ Clouseau never had. Surprisingly, three years later, Steve Martin has captured the comic spirit of both Sellers and Clouseau in the lively sequel “The Pink Panther 2” (*** out of ****) and “Agent Cody Banks” director Harald Zwart keeps slapping us silly throughout this nimble, 91-minute merriment with riotous pratfalls and sight gags galore. The 2006 “Pink Panther” looked abysmal, but it coined over a $158 million worldwide. Incredibly, the far superior sequel looks absolutely fantastic, but it isn’t generating the box office receipts of its predecessor.

Like most sequels, “The Pink Panther 2” plays for bigger stakes. A mysterious thief, the Tornado, has stolen the British Magna Carta, the Italian Shroud of Turin, and the Imperial Sword of Japan. The ingenious Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber screenplay has the world authorities assembling an elite team of crack detectives to catch the elusive Tornado. Included are Italian investigator Vicenzo (Andy Garcia of “The Godfather, Part 3”), British cop Randal Pepperridge (Alfred Molina of “Spider-man 2”), and Japanese policeman Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki). It is only a matter of time before French Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese of the Monty Python troupe) is summoned by Joubert (Geoffrey Palmer of "Tomorrow Never Dies"), his immediate superior, and ordered to add Clouseau to the team. The envious Dreyfus volunteers to take Clouseau’s place. He tells Joubert that he has Clouseau on a special assignment to safeguard Parisians. In reality, Dreyfus has banished our hero to writing tickets for parking infractions. Joubert demands that Clouseau join the dream team. Initially, Clouseau is reluctant to leave France. He fears the Tornado will take advantage of his absence and pinch the Pink Panther diamond on display in a Parisian museum. Clearly, something must have changed because the diamond was set in a ring in the previous “Pink Panther.” No sooner has Clouseau walked out of the terminal to board his plane to Rome than the word hits the airwaves about of the Pink Panther’s theft.

“The Pink Panther 2” contains many memorable gags. In a restaurant in Rome, Clouseau selects a bottle of wine for his girlfriend, Nicole (Emily Mortimer of “Scream 3”), and winds up tipping the wine rack so all the bottles cascade out. Waiters scramble everywhere to catch these falling bottles. Only one bottle hits the floor, but it doesn’t break! Just when everything seems safe, Clouseau crosses the room, steps on that wine bottle rolling across the floor, falls and throws his wine bottle into the air. Clouseau’s wine bottle shatters on a flaming dessert dish, and the entire restaurant burns down! In another scene, Clouseau tries to sneak inconspicuously around a three story villa. He climbs onto the roof but falls backwards down the chimney, crashing through three fireplaces! In a duel of wits, Clouseau and Pepperridge display their powers of deduction. They observe things about each other that they have no apparent way of knowing. As the duel concludes, Pepperridge makes a comment about Clouseau’s trip to the airport. A puzzled Clouseau wonders how Pepperridge knew about airport as he holds up the back of his hand that the passport official had stamped by accident.

The lunacy in “The Pink Panther 2” compares favorably with the better Sellers’ “Pink Panther” movies. The martial arts hand-to-hand combat scenes in his apartment are hilarious. Director Harald Zwart and his writers have cleverly contrived events in advance so you are actually given clues about the villain’s identity before Clouseau unveils the guilty party. The trouble is that unless you’re vigilant, you’ll miss this bit of foreshadowing. Jean Reno returns as Detective Ponton, Clouseau’s right hand man, who is supposed to defend himself from any of Clouseau’s unexpected attacks. You see, Clouseau has trained Ponton to be constantly vigilant, and the best way for Clouseau to test Ponton’s vigilance is to attack him without warning. When Ponton’s wife kicks his two sons and him from their house, they move in with Clouseau. Ponton’s sons teach Clouseau a trick or two about vigilance. Not surprisingly, John Cleese is a lot funnier as Chief Inspector Dreyfus than Kevin Kline was in the 2006 “Pink Panther.” Lily Tomlin shines in a small role as a overseer at police headquarters who monitors political correctness. She busts Clouseau for his sexist and racist attitude toward women and foreigners. Canadian composer Christophe Beck does an excellent job of duplicating Henry Mancini’s unforgettable theme music. The Pink Panther cartoon that opens “The Pink Panther 2” is as good as any of the original “Pink Panther” cartoons. Happily, this “Pink” doesn’t stink like its predecessor.

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