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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I was one of the few critics who gave a good review to the remake of The Pink Panther. The venom many critics had for it surprised me; while certainly no classic, the movie was a decent example of willfully silly comedy. (It ended up becoming a sizable box office hit, so apparently I wasn't alone in enjoying Steve Martin's antics as Inspector Clouseau.) On the morning of the day I headed out to see the sequel, creatively titled The Pink Panther 2, I changed my status update on Facebook to reflect where I was headed. One of my colleagues in the Online Film Critics Society, who had already screened the film, responded that it would make me "want to scream."

Well, not exactly. The Pink Panther 2 made me laugh, but not as much as the first one did. I still think a lot of people were too hard on the original (or, should I say, the remake). This sequel deserves some of the brickbats that will be thrown at it, but at the same time, it's a passable lightweight comedy for families who enjoyed the last one or groups of 10 year-olds for whom physical humor is an endless source of amusement.

This time, Clouseau is in search of a master thief known as the Tornado, who has been hopping the globe stealing priceless artifacts, such as the Shroud of Turin, the Pope's ring and, of course, the titular jewel. Against his wishes, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese, subbing for Kevin Kline) is ordered to put Clouseau into a "dream team" of international detectives (played by, among others, Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia, and Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai). Working together to deduce the specifics of the crimes, the dream team is led toward a man named Avellaneda (Jeremy Irons), who used to be connected to the Tornado. Clouseau, unlike his colleagues, doesn't quite believe the man is guilty. Through his incessant bumbling, he eventually solves the mystery…although in a movie like this, the actual resolution of the plot is kind of beside the point, as it's the bumbling that counts.

The early scenes of Pink Panther 2 made me laugh hard, particularly a brilliantly-staged scene in a fancy restaurant, where Clouseau tips over a shelf full of wine bottles, sending all the waiters into a frenzy as they try to catch them. Later on, there's another really funny scene where the other members of the dream team interrogate Avellaneda while Clouseau sneaks around the massive property, his antics seen only through the security monitors on the wall behind everyone else. Moments like these have a strong visual cleverness that I really admired. They're so good that I wish there were more of them.

A few other things scattered throughout were funny - and I always enjoy watching Steve Martin in anything - but there were more dead zones this time than before. Too many scenes are spent developing the romantic subplot between Clouseau and his female assistant (Emily Mortimer) that was introduced before. It's not particularly funny, since the selling point of these films is the Inspector's mayhem, not his love life. There's also a running gag involving an etiquette expert (Lily Tomlin), who tries to teach Clouseau some cultural competency. After their brilliant work together in All of Me, seeing Martin and Tomlin re-team onscreen should be funnier than this is. The picture's last act - set in a museum during a high society celebration - gets a little too slapsticky for my taste (people falling into cakes, getting whacked in the head with objects, etc.) Physical comedy is fine, but I don't have much taste for outright slapstick.

The best part of both Pink Panther pictures is Steve Martin, who finds his own take on the character made famous by Peter Sellers. This style of comedy suits Martin well, as it is similar to the "wild and crazy guy" humor that established him back in the 70's. While the movie itself alternates between moments of real cleverness and bland spots, Martin is always fun to watch. The bottom line is that, while The Pink Panther 2 certainly has moments of hilarity, they are fewer and farther between this time.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Pink Panther 2 is rated PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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