"The Pink Panther 2" may lack the intelligence and sophistication of the original Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers comedies, and even the zest and heart of The Pink Panther (Special Edition). But like the Pink Panther diamond itself, "The Pink Panther 2" is still a gem, in spite of its flaws.
One flaw is the title. I was disappointed when the previous film's working title was shortened from "The Birth of the Pink Panther," and before the curtain went down on that one I had a sneaking suspicion they'd name the sequel "Pink Panther 2." It's okay that they ignore the fact that this is the eleventh movie, not the second, because this is one of those Hollywood "reboots." But it's just lazy, especially when there are plenty of "The BLANK of the Pink Panther" and "The Pink Panther does BLANK" titles left to choose from. That said, the movie is nowhere near as lame as its title.
When the movie opens, Inspector Clouseau has been put on parking ticket duty by his jealous superior Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) right after winning the Medal of Honor. Cleese, like Herbert Lom (the original Dreyfus) and unlike Kevin Kline in the previous film, uses his natural British accent rather than attempting a French one. Unfortunately Cleese, unlike Herbert Lom but like Kevin Kline before him, doesn't attempt an eye twitch, either. When priceless artifacts are stolen by a cat burglar known as "The Tornado" (like "The Phantom" in The Pink Panther, but without David Niven's panache), a "dream team" is assembled out of detectives representing the countries in which the crimes took place. And when the Pink Panther diamond (last seen as a rock on Beyonce's finger, now a honking gem on public display in a Paris museum) is stolen, Clouseau joins oily Italian playboy sleuth Andy Garcia (Ocean's Trilogy (Ocean's Eleven / Ocean's Twelve / Ocean's Thirteen)), London master of deduction Alfred Molina (Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2.1), Japanese computer expert Yuki Matsuzaki, and the author who is writing the book on the Tornado (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) in interrogating prime suspect Jeremy Irons.
Garcia, Molina, Rai, Matsuzaki and Irons are all magnificient actors, but none of them are comedians per se. Garcia and Molina both get their share of zingers, and Aishwarya Rai looks lovely, but a Pink Panther movie needs actors who can blend into the background, not steal the spotlight from Clouseau. Steve Martin continues to fill the role of Clouseau fantastically. In my opinion, he is the only actor other than Sellers to truly make the character his own. He fares better with a director other than Harold Zwart, though. In this film, he lacks the pathos established in the last film. He's less child-like and more childish.
Also, director Harold Zwart and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber seem to be trying too hard to capture the sharp-edged, adult humor of the old Blake Edwards comedies. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it's at odds with the kid-friendly, broad slapstick also presented. The character of Cato is still missing, but they've found ways to incorporate all of the elements of the character without him. The all-out karate ambush sequence is successfully revived in a surprising way I won't spoil here. And Yuki Matsuzaki's character becomes the butt of Clouseau's old "little yellow friend" line, leading to a scene in which Lilly Tomlin, playing a political correctness instructor, tells Clouseau why he can't get away with saying this. Unfortunately, the political correctness coaching scenes go too far. Yes, it's good to see Martin reunited with his old co-star Lilly Tomlin. Yes, in today's age Clouseau would be considered a racist, sexist, small-minded twit. But how long do we have to dwell on that fact?
But while the jokes all work on different levels, the important thing is that they do work.
While I preferred the tone and pace of the previous film, "The Pink Panther 2" does deliver big belly laughs. John Cleese doesn't have the same chemistry with Steve Martin that Kevin Kline did, but he's a much better choice for the role. He does that stiff upper-lipped deadpan British humor thing he's so good at, and it suits the role incredibly well. His few brief moments on screen are some of the movie's most hilarious. Cleese, Martin, Garcia, and Molina all have some razor-sharp one-liners, too, most of which are saved for the incredibly funny climax.
As in all of the Pink Panther films, the opening credit animation is a highlight. It's funny, stylish, and sophisticated: everything you'd expect from a Pink Panther cartoon. For fans, the credits alone will be worth the price of admission. Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, and Steve Martin continue to have great chemistry together. Phillip Goodwin returns in the almost unnoticeable role of Dreyfus' confidant. In the same way the worst James Bond movies provides more thrills than most other action flicks, a weak Pink Panther movie still provides more belly laughs than most other comedies. And there are plenty of laughs to be had in "The Pink Panther 2."