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Monday, Feb. 9, 2009

A Little Laughter

The Panther returns (again)

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Since Steve Martin is one of the smartest men in show business, he must have been hard up for money when he agreed to star in the Pink Panther remake as Inspector Clouseau. Why else do it? In the original movie series the bumbling French detective was one of the funniest film characters ever, played by one of cinema's funniest actors, Peter Sellers. Surely Martin knew he could never top the best.

Mediocrity often sells, however. Martin's 2006 remake made enough money to induce a sequel. Oddly, The PinkPanther 2 is marginally better, funnier, than its immediate predecessor, even if it's barely a shadow of the original. The plot concerns a mysterious master thief called the Tornado. He is on a spree stealing some of the world's great treasures-the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, the Japanese imperial sword. When he steals France's priceless Pink Panther diamond, Clouseau swings into action as part of an "international dream team" of detectives. The crime fighters give rise to modestly amusing performances by Alfred Molina (the British detective) and Andy Garcia (representing Italy).

Aside from the occasional puerile joke and juvenile sight gag, the movie's problem is Martin himself. Sellers played Clouseau in total deadpan mode, acting (brilliantly!) as if he was unaware that his character was a buffoon. Martin pitches his Clouseau in a high key of silliness, relying mostly on a bad, lisping French accent for laughs. France becomes "Fwance." Hah, hah. Make that eeh-eeh to match Martin's froggy enunciation.

On the other hand, The Pink Panther 2 includes a few funny gags, the best of them probably devised by Martin, and several splendid moments of slapstick in which Martin's body language resembles Charlie Chaplin circa Modern Times. Although it falls miles short of the original, The Pink Panther 2 supplies a little laughter in a somber winter of discontent.