Friday, February 6, 2009

Review: "The Pink Panther 2"

For those strong of heart and bladder, movie end credits are an endless source of entertainment. In watching those for “The Pink Panther 2,” I learn that Jean Reno, who plays Inspector Clouseau’s right-hand man Ponton, had a dialect coach. This is hilarious, in that he is the only French actor with a starring role in the movie.

This would be like a Western made with an all-Chinese cast except for a single native of Wyoming, and everyone felt he was the one who needed help sounding like an authentic cowboy.

This movie is a linguist’s dream, or nightmare. You’ve got an American star (Steve Martin) doing an intentionally awful French accent, and an English actress (Emily Mortimer) doing the same. Brit comedy legend John Cleese plays the head of the French police, but sounds exactly like he did in “Fawlty Towers.” Then Clouseau joins an international dream team of detectives, except the Italian is played by a Cuban (Andy Garcia) and the Cambridge don is played by Alfred Molina, who actually is half Italian.

Oh, and India’s Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai turns up as a detective from … actually, I’m not sure if they ever said where she was from. At least the Japanese detective (Yuki Matsuzaki) actually is from Japan, and sounds like it.

And so I ask again: Jean Reno was the one who needed dialect help?

Anyway, I walked into “Pink Panther 2” fully expecting to despise it, and came out pleasantly surprised. It’s a moderately entertaining bit of piffle, with a few clever laugh-out-loud spots.

Those who were offended that Steve Martin would try to step into Peter Sellers’ shoes may have avoided the first remake in 2006 (as I did), but Martin comes off much better here than when he tried to reboot the Sgt. Bilko franchise.

Besides, for those wearing Rose-colored glasses about Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies, don’t forget that he wasn’t so inconvenienced by Sellers’ death as to stop making them. Edwards managed to crank out a Pink Panther movie entirely using Sellers’ clips from the earlier flicks, and then yet another installment where his disappearance is the big mystery. And then he got really classy and cast Robert Benigni as the Pink Panther’s son.

Sellers’ indelible character had long ago been pimped out to keep the cash flowing, so Steve Martin really had no where to go but up.

His Jacques Clouseau is a bit more lecherous than his predecessor, casting a covetous eye toward his assistant Nicole. He also takes a classic French stance on complimenting and ogling women, which draws the ire of the police’s new political correctness enforcer (Lily Tomlin).

Oh, the plot. Yes, there is one: Infamous thief The Tornado has come out of retirement to steal the world’s greatest treasures, such as the Magda Carta and Shroud of Turin. Fearful that he will go after France’s beloved Pink Panther diamond next, Clouseau is put in charge of the international detectives, which leads to some predictable head-butting, and wooing of Nicole by the Italian.

It’s all just a sham to set up outrageous slapstick, at which Martin (or at least his stunt double) proves a gifted physical comedian. One bit where falling wine bottles become a juggling act involving every waiter in the restaurant is particularly inspired. I also loved this screaming French newspaper headline: “Entire nation loses panache!”

Is “Pink Panther 2” the funniest movie ever? Far from it. But my guess is that its existence would not leave Peter Sellers miffed. That’s more than I can say for the Benigni one.

2.5 stars out of four

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