By Roger Moore
The great comedian doesn’t get what makes this character funny.
Someday, we’ll stroll through the Steve Martin Wing of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, admiring his collection, and we’ll appreciate what he had to do to pay for his Picassos, Seurats and Edward Hoppers.
Until then, we endure the “Cheaper by the Dozens” and “Pink Panthers” with a grimace, remembering the comic he once was.
“The Pink Panther 2,” his latest, is somewhat less of a desecration of the memory of Peter Sellers than Martin’s first outing as the bumbling French detective. Martin still hasn’t bothered to learn a faux French accent. The editing doesn’t hide that even the simplest stunts are now done by fellows in snow-white wigs. But this family-friendly farce plays lighter than the first Martin “Panther,” even if Martin himself still doesn’t “get” what made the character funny.
The Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin and a famous Japanese sword have been stolen by The Tornado. An international “dream team” — English (Alfred Molina), Italian (Andy Garcia, actually funny), Japanese (Yuki Matsuzaki) and Indian (Aishwarya Rai) — has been assembled to crack the case. They want the world’s “greatest detective” on board. Can his boss (John Cleese, giving his all) spare Clouseau from parking duty? Of course he can, even though he knows the only smart thing about the man is his Smart Car.
No sooner than Clouseau and Ponton (Jean Reno) are on the case than the Pink Panther diamond is stolen — again.
Our team travels to Rome to interview a suspect (an Oscar winner in a cameo) and the Pope’s ring is swiped right off his finger. Not to worry. Clouseau’s powers of deduction — if not his tact or common sense — will triumph.
“Forgeeve me, Meester Pope,” Martin-Clouseau purrs in an accent that comes and goes, as if he forgets how Pepe LePew sounded. To his new Japanese Dream Teammate, he blurts, “I suppose you weel be wanting soooshi, my leetle yellow friend.”
Lily Tomlin is among those who took this paid French vacation, playing a human resources officer trying to cure Clouseau of his political correctness. Emily Mortimer is back as the assistant Clouseau pines for.
A few bits of physical comedy pay off. Martin’s juggling skills come in handy for a (special effects-assisted) accident with a wine rack. He dances a flamenco (badly) and has a karate brawl with Ponton’s young sons.
Dutch director Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks”) gets less out of his star than his stuntmen. The film treats Clouseau, at times, as a cartoon character, hurling him across the French skyline.
Neither actor nor director pick up on what made the character work — he was an egomaniac who suspected his incompetence but was determined to keep up appearances. Martin lacks Sellers’ dash, his pained “I’ll be found out” double-takes, his mastery of the accent. Martin isn’t putting the work in.
But these “Panther” paydays may pay off yet. A Picasso for a “Pink” — that’s the best we can hope for.