The Pink Panther is 45 years old now, with a bigscreen life only two years shorter than James Bond’s, and a lesson of both series is, don’t underestimate the power of a catchy musical theme and memorable opening credits. In the case of “The Pink Panther 2,” the “2” of which is used advisedly in that this is actually the 10th Inspector Clouseau feature, the enduring inspirations of the late composer Henry Mancini and animators Friz Freleng and David DePatie provide more consistent enjoyment than the miss-but-sometimes-hit merriment generated by the living participants. But like Steve Martin’s first outing in the role three years ago, which generated a $158 million worldwide gross, “2” serves up enough goofy pranks and fractured wordplay to keep the series purring along.
While hardly supplanting Peter Sellers in anyone’s memories, Martin proved a more than serviceable Clouseau in his first go-round in the role in 2006, mangling pronunciations with particular aplomb — his memorable tussle with “hamburger” gets a replay here — and performing clever variations on old Sellers-Blake Edwards routines. There’s more of the same this time around: A new take on the classic finger-on-the-spinning-globe gag is funny, and Martin’s back-and-forth with Andy Garcia over the pronunciation of the endless name of the latter’s Italian character provokes the most sustained laughs in the picture.
Script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who penned the recent Sundance hit “500 Days of Summer,” and Martin follows the time-tested blueprint: Clouseau is called out of parking-violations department banishment to join a dream team of world detectives to track down the Tornado, who thus far has stolen the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin and the Imperial Sword of Japan.
Mix of Garcia’s Italian, Alfred Molina’s Brit, Yuki Matsuzaki’s Japanese and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Indian creates a veritable bumper-car ride of accents, with Jean Reno, as Clouseau’s partner, and Emily Mortimer, as the detective’s adorably prim associate and secret love, tossing in their own French inflections for good measure.
Thwarted when Clouseau’s suspicions that the Tornado is a haughty grandee (Jeremy Irons) prove false, the group is stunned when the pope, no less, is divested of his irreplaceable ring in the Vatican. Amusing silliness ensues when Clouseau dons papal vestments and becomes mistaken for the Holy Father by the crowds at St. Peter’s, but the detective’s impersonation of a flamenco dancer falls flat, evidence that Martin needs a director more adept at staging and timing physical comedy than the Dutch-born, Norway-based helmer Harald Zwart — who, to paraphrase Clouseau, is a director to remember for a film that must be forgotten, “Agent Cody Banks.”
Producer Robert Simonds commendably follows the guidelines Edwards set early in the “Panther” series but then dropped, surrounding Clouseau with adept, sexy co-stars. Even when not much is going on, it’s agreeable enough to observe the likes of Mortimer, Irons, Garcia, Bachchan, Molina, Reno, Matsuzaki and John Cleese get up to their little mischief.
Lily Tomlin assumes the inspired new character of a political-correctness watchdog at police headquarters who keeps catching Clouseau at wayward moments. But after a promising start, it partly may be the resurgent series’ slide toward juvenility and direct aim at subteen audiences that robs Tomlin’s role of its potential, as Clouseau is prevented from doing or saying much that is truly outrageous to provoke the woman’s schoolmarmish wrath.
Paris and assorted other Euro locations add welcome flavor, although production values are pretty basic.