Pink Panther 2

by Rick Grant
Grade: B / Rated PG / 92 min
For those of us who remember the late great Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau it’s hard to make comparisons to Steve Martin’s interpretation. Whereas Sellers brought subtlety and nuance to the role, Martin’s first version seemed stiff and awkward, playing Clouseau as more of a physical comedian.
In contrast, Martin’s second foray as the dim-witted but clever detective was much more defined. The gags were more imaginative and Martin seemed more comfortable in the role. Martin finally owns the part and plays it differently than Sellers but true to his own style.
The setup for PP2 has Clouseau joining a “dream team” of Europe’s finest sleuths to solve a case of a ring of thieves who steal historical artifacts. The team includes Clouseau’s trusty partner, Ponton (Jean Reno) and his assistant Nicole (Emily Mortimer) with Vicenzo ( Andy Garcia) Pepperidge (Alfred Molina) and Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki).
This is a ego heavy group who all suffer from frequent fits of self esteem and they think Clouseau is a blithering idiot. But Clouseau uses his veil of incompetence as a cover to solve the case while the others are tripping over themselves like the Three Stooges.
Clouseau’s nemesis is uppity Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese). He’s ready to step in and take credit for Clouseau’s detective expertise, and when it looks like Clouseau is making a fool of himself, Dreyfus is jubilantly reveling in his craziness. Mrs Berenger (Lily Tomlin) is there to make sure Clouseau plays by politically correct rules, which he ignores, much to her chagrin.
Dreyfus is tasked with protecting the priceless Pink Panther diamond, which is stolen during the rash of robberies. The thief used the hysteria created by the theft of the historical artifacts to swoop in and steal the diamond. This sets up more comedic situations as Clouseau bungles his way around the case.
His tour de force screw up was being photographed as the Pope falling off his balcony and becoming the laughing stock of Rome. Martin’s scene with the Pope is hilarious as he asks him stupid questions and dons his robes and Papal hat.
The scene in which Clouseau impersonates a Spanish dancer is a memorable comedy gag of outrageous absurdity that results in a guffaw-fest -a real treat for viewers. Martin, who has a tendency to take bits too far, let loose with this gag with calculated restraint. Martin is full of impish charm and self parody in his characterization of Clouseau.
The dream team is all too eager to make Clouseau their fall guy and he obliges. But, Clouseau has some cool tricks up his sleeve that eventually turn the team into a joke. But, most the gags are at Clouseau’s expense as the team makes their own mistakes.
Pink Panther’s brain trust, Blake Edwards, now 86, found his new muse with Steve Martin. Frankly, I still feel nostalgic about Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, but Martin has created his own version of the character. So, the franchise will continue as a memorial to Edwards’ comedic genius.