The Pink Panther 2
Something fishy is afoot. Has Steve Martin (64) settled on Inspector Clouseau as his retirement plan? It’s not as if his 2006 reincarnation of Peter Sellers’ most famous role set the world alight – at least, not in a good way (the Inspector burns down a restaurant here, twice). Even if Martin looks much as he always has, it’s a bit late in the day to take on such a physically demanding franchise, n’est ce pas?
Still, let’s accentuate the positif. Martin’s cameo in Baby Mama last year was probably his best work since Bowfinger (1999) and The Pink Panther 2 represents a partial improvement on numéro un. Nothing to get excited about mind – it’s still slapdash, inane, and acutely rubbish at times, but despite everything there are some chuckles here.
Here’s the plot: a series of priceless treasures are swiped from museums around the world, including the shroud of Turin, the Magna Carta, and the Pink Panther diamond. There’s no mystery about the thief: “The Tornado” leaves his calling card at the scene of the crime. But who is this Tornado, and where? Clouseau is tapped to head up an international dream team of top cops, including Italy’s Vicenzo Leone (Andy Garcia), Japan’s Kenji (Matsuzaki Yuki), and Britain’s Pepperidge (Alfred Molina). Also on board, Tornado expert Sonia (Aishwarya Rai). It doesn’t take them long to deduce that Clouseau is an idiot. By the time the Pope’s ring is stolen from his finger, the rest of the world is catching on too.
The mystery element plays out quite well. A romantic rivalry with Vicenzo over the affections of Nicole (Emily Mortimer) is not as developed as it might have been. But it’s all about the slapstick set pieces: Clouseau trying to deliver a parking ticket to a moving car; Clouseau falling from the Pope’s balcony dressed in his robes; Clouseau disguising himself as a flamenco dancer. Dutch director Harold Zwart seems as clueless as his protagonist when it comes to staging them, but Martin wins some smiles just for throwing himself into the proceedings with such zest.
I did have a theory that the fundamental problem with Martin’s Clouseau is that it takes an Englishman to really roast the French (I know I’d rather see Steve Coogan have a go, if anyone must). Unfortunately that notion is definitively scuppered by John Cleese – of all people. He takes over from the woeful Kevin Kline as Dreyfus and proceeds to play it with his impeccable Basil Fawlty cut-glass English accent. What was he thinking? It makes no sense whatsoever and it’s not as if he can’t mangle his way through Franglais, as any Python fans can tell you. Didn’t he read the script? Hasn’t he ever seen a Pink Panther film? It’s a dismal – though mercifully relatively brief – performance, only trumped in unfunniness by Lily Tomlin, sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb as a PR expert who attempts to teach Clouseau political correctness. There might have been some juice in that far-fetched idea, but not as it’s played out here – a badly written scene even manages to make Steve Martin look racist. Oh dear! (And he shares a script credit too.)
As before, only Jean Reno contrives to walk away with his dignity intact. A Frenchman stealing the show! There ought to be a law…
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