Blake Edwards may have created the character of Jacques Clouseau and The Pink Panther series, but Peter Sellers is the man who defined the role. My favorite is A Shot in the Dark, one of the greatest examples of physical comedy I've ever seen. Clouseau's exploits would get more and more elaborate as the series continued, but the second Panther film (the first, really) remains the best. And yet, there's the series' redheaded stepchild: Inspector Clouseau (which can be viewed in its entirety, legally, on YouTube). It's got more than a handful of great gags (including an early office scene in which Clouseau keeps switching chairs), all performed with panache by star Alan Arkin, proving that, despite other, painful attempts to continue the series (I'm looking at you, Ted Wass), that while Sellers' talent is unquestionable, the series still has potential without him.
So then we have Steve Martin. It's been 30 years, but The Jerk remains one of the best examples of Martin's comic talents. It's goofy, witty, sly, clever, and often very sweet. I love it. And while The Jerk really isn't anything like a Panther movie, those same qualities are embodied by A Shot in the Dark. As a Martin fan and having just rewatched most of the series, I gave the 2006 remake a shot in theaters. It wasn't terrible -- a gag involving a table and a vase is truly classic Panther, and Martin's insistent mangling of "hamburger" is hilarious -- but I was distracted. French star Jean Reno plays Clouseau's partner Ponton, but it was evident to me that he'd be perfect for Clouseau himself. Reno has some background in goofy comedy (see The Visitors for an example), and every gag in the movie played funnier in my head with Reno instead of Martin. It'd be more fun to see Martin as Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline then, John Cleese now), because as any Planes, Trains and Automobiles fan knows, Martin can reach all-time comedic heights when he's angry. At the very least, I wished Martin would drop his terrible accent, which mangles several jokes instead of improving them.
Alas, none of these changes have occurred in The Pink Panther 2, which once again scored a laugh or two, but suffers from the basic law of diminishing returns. So much of 2 is by-the-book, it's impressive to imagine that someone got paid to put it on paper. Once again, Clouseau is investigating the disappearance of the Pink Panther diamond, this time at the hands of a mysterious criminal known as Il Tornado. The unidentified thief has already stolen the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin and the Imperial Sword, and Clouseau is on his way to Kyoto when the titular French treasure goes missing.
The first film didn't have an impressive whodunit, but the sequel's story is even more anemic: I'd like to meet someone over the age of 12 who can't figure out the ending within the first fifteen or twenty minutes. What's most disheartening about the movie's lack of inspiration is that many movies of the same ilk would drop huge neon signs left and right so any audience member would get it, but The Pink Panther 2 is obvious seemingly through sheer inertia. Maybe it's apathy on the part of screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (with help from Martin) or director Harald Zwart, but there isn't a shred of suspense here. It may be a family comedy, but that doesn't excuse lazy writing. The film tries to compensate by piling on a ton of extra details during the big reveal, but it doesn't help. Speaking of lazy writing, In the final act, the film also employs one of the most tired cliches in recent movie history (involving Clouseau's medal), which is almost painful to watch.
Panther 2 also trots out the talented Lily Tomlin as a political correctness coach in Clouseau's building. All of Me is another one of Martin's greatest, but any fun the actors had reuniting occurred off-camera. The jokes during their scenes feel both too-risque for the movie's PG rating (some of Clouseau's "stereotypes" are closer to racism) yet restrained and cut back (while Tomlin also looks like unnatural movie airbushing has been enacted upon her face). Really, all of the cast seems to have signed on to hang out rather than to make The Pink Panther 2: I can't imagine the plot was the compelling factor for Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, or an uncredited Jeremy Irons. Only Martin and returning romantic interest Emily Mortimer seem at all committed to the film, but for whatever reason, their relationship was more interesting last time through, and Martin's slapstick is hampered by obvious stunt doubles and a need for CG (a nunchaku is clearly fake and a bottle-tossing stunt seems to be enhanced).
Even Jean Reno looks tired. When the last Panther was out, my casting concept kept bouncing around in my head. I'd had a complete "musical chairs" concept: I even had Kevin Kline playing the football fan with the diamond, and Jason Statham as Ponton, because The Transporter as modern-day Cato made me laugh. This time, while the idea still holds its appeal, I didn't care. It seems unlikely that Martin will be stepping into Clouseau's shoes for a third time, given this entry's dismal box office, so perhaps it's for the best: given the choice between my alternate version and other projects, at this point I think I'd rather see Martin, Reno, and everyone else just do something else.
The DVD, Video and Audio
You know the drill: Fox sent me a watermarked, compression-filled DVD-R with no retail packaging, so I can't note or grade any of it (let's hope the pinstripes on Martin's pastel suit don't flicker in every shot on the final product). The DVD front cover is pretty basic, though.
A gag reel (3:34) reinforces my belief that working with each other was more amusing than making the movie, although unfortunately their levity doesn't translate. Two featurettes follow. "Drama is Easy, Comedy is Dangerous" (7:42) is basically a stunt featurette documenting the movie's more elaborate and dangerous slapstick, and "A Dream Team Like No Other" (13:56) focuses on the movie's extraordinary cast. None of it will blow your mind, but they're not overwhelmingly boring or anything.
Ads for Digital Copy, the new, truly awful-looking Cartoon Network show "Pink Panther and Pals" (The Panther skateboards! Extreme!), the new Fame remake and Post Grad kick off the disc, and...that's it. For whatever reason, Fox/MGM elected not to stick a whole page of additional, unrelated trailers on the DVD. How could this be? Still, even without a page of additional junk, the theatrical trailer for The Pink Panther 2 is not included.
If you really, really loved Martin's first Panther film, you might consider renting this, but everyone else can skip it and rent one of his other classics instead.
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