Movie News & Reviews

Martin finds fresh laughs in 'Panther' formula

Here's a real case for Inspector Clouseau to crack: How does a movie that relies so heavily on formula come off so fresh and funny?

The huge-diamond-in-a-handbag trick? Seen it. The vivacious bombshell (Aishwarya Rai) who bafflingly falls for inept Clouseau? Drooled over her before (Beyonce Knowles). The big sphere that wreaks comedic havoc (Clouseau inadvertently logrolling a giant globe while sneaking around a suspect's house). It rolled through the last movie (taking out the Tour de France mob).

And yet the retakes in "The Pink Panther 2" are at least as funny as those in 2006's "The Pink Panther" (a reprise itself of Peter Sellers' portrayal of the bumbling French detective based on the Blake Edwards character).

Such heavy lifting from the original would be a crime if not for the heavy lifting of Steve Martin. Martin not only plays Clouseau with a deft mix of cluelessness and Magooesque competence, but he wrote the screenplay with Scott Neustadter and Micheal H. Weber.

Considering his vast talent -- as a stand-up comedian, novelist ("Shopgirl"), actor, magician, banjo player and who knows what else -- he may well have handled the movie's payroll and made snacks for the cast and crew during breaks. (Note: According to the credits, those tasks were actually performed by accountant Trish Vengoechea and caterer Jacques Grousset.)

Martin is the reason the Pink Panther lives, but he's not the only reason the movie works. Back from the original are Jean Reno as Ponton, Clouseau's faithful-if-flummoxed assistant, and Emily Mortimer as Nicole, Clouseau's stealth love interest. A significant lineup change: The frustration of Chief Inspector Dreyfus is expressed in "PP2" by John Cleese (the British version of Martin?) in place of Kevin Kline (who had a previous commitment) from the original.

OK, maybe "2" doesn't entirely follow the script of its predecessor.

This time, for instance, it's not just the Pink Panther diamond that has vanished, but the Shroud of Turin, the Magna Carta, the Japanese imperial sword and, a little later, the Pope's ring. That, of course, calls for an International Dream Team of detectives from the aggrieved countries, including Andy Garcia as an Italian detective whose investigation includes a probe of Nicole.

Sometimes the borrowing is more subtle. Last time, a frustrated linguistic coach tried to teach Clouseau to say "hamburger." This time, Lily Tomlin portrays an etiquette coach charged with the formidable task of ridding Clouseau of his penchant for stereotyping (he's on an internationally sensitive assignment with detectives from Japan, Italy and England, remember) and naive sexual harassment.

A cat-and-mouse game between the two over whether Clouseau snuck a peek at a blonde bending over to pick up some papers would have been trite and predictable were it not done by such nuanced comedians. The opportunity to watch these two play off one another will warrant repeated replays when "Pink Panther 2" comes out on disc.

In fact, because of Martin, "Pink Panther 2" is nothing but replay moments. Martin interrogating the Pope and speculating that perhaps the pontiff did the job himself for the insurance money. Martin giving a dusty Shroud of Turin a crisp snap and suggesting they get it dry cleaned before returning it. Martin inadvertently torching a swank Rome restaurant -- twice.

Seen it before? See it again?


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