[Screen It]

(2009) (Steve Martin, Jean Reno) (PG)

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Comedy: A bumbling French police inspector leads a team of detectives assembled from around the world to catch a notorious thief of rare and precious items, including the famed Pink Panther diamond.
Despite having previously managed to save the famed Pink Panther diamond, bumbling French police inspector Jacques Clouseau (STEVE MARTIN) is now doing traffic meter duty, assigned by his superior, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (JOHN CLEESE), who realizes Clouseau is a boob who lucked out in solving that famous case. His personal assistant, Ponton (JEAN RENO), and secretary, Nicole (EMILY MORTIMER), however, look up to the inspector, although her admiration is also romantically tinged.

Accordingly, they aren't surprised when Clouseau is chosen by the French government to lead a "dream team" of worldly detectives -- including Vicenzo (ANDY GARCIA), Pepperidge (ALFRED MOLINA), Kenji (YUKI MATSUZAKI) as well as diamond expert Sonia (AISHWARYA RAI BACHCHAN) -- assembled to find and stop a notorious thief, The Tornado, who's stealing some of the world's rarest and most precious items. Not only has the criminal stolen the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin and Japan's Imperial Sword, but he's now just nabbed the Pink Panther.

While political correctness liaison Mrs. Berenger (LILY TOMLIN) tries to teach Clouseau how to act around the opposite sex and in terms of ethnic sensitivity, he must deal with Vicenzo putting the moves on Nicole while Sonia does the same to Clouseau. That's all while the team of detectives searches for criminal Milliken (JOHNNY HALLYDAY) while investigating his ultra-wealthy fence, Avellaneda (JEREMY IRONS), in the belief that they might know something about the crimes.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Movies can raise any number of questions as they unfold and/or in hindsight once the end credits roll. Sometimes, that revolves around real-life or historical issues touched upon by the work. At others, queries can stem from how the story plays out (including plot twists and such) or why characters behave in certain ways.

While watching "The Pink Panther 2," the big question that comes to mind doesn't involve any sort of historical matters. Nor does it really stem from how the story plays out or the way in which the characters act (mainly due to both elements being about as predictable as they come).

Instead, it's what motivated such a name cast to appear in this film. And that not only relates to it being a sequel, but also because the original wasn't that good in the first place, and in some circles was reviled for sullying fond memories of what Peter Sellers did with the role in the original films from so long ago.

Granted, the 2006 retooling grossed some $150 million plus worldwide. Yet, even presumed lucrative offers apparently couldn't lure the likes of Kevin Kline, Beyoncé Knowles or even director Shawn Levy back for a second go-round with the bumbling French police inspector character and his related (and supposed) comedic shenanigans.

Accordingly, and besides the potential for a decent pay day what could have inspired the likes of Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, John Cleese, Lily Tomlin and, of all people, Jeremy Irons to show up? It clearly couldn't have been the script by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber and star Steve Martin, as it's about as funny as an IRS audit and several steps down the clever chain from even a lame TV sitcom.

In short, some significant items have been stolen by the notorious thief The Tornado (known by business cards bearing the name of the same at the scenes of the crimes), so Inspector Clouseau (having saved the precious Pink Panther diamond last time around) is called upon to lead a "dream team" of detectives, tech wizards and diamond experts to find it and the other stolen loot.

All of which is really just an excuse to set up various gags that allow Martin to reprise his take on the Clouseau character. Granted, the "wild and crazy guy" is a gifted physical comedian (see "All of Me," his last effort with Tomlin who's otherwise wasted here as the PC police).

Even so, new director Harald Zwart, Martin as the writer, and everyone else don't do much in conceiving or executing imaginative visual gags for the performer. Many are lifted and/or inspired by what Sellers did so long ago, and the likes of yet more "karate" antics between Martin's Clouseau and non-villains only make one yearn for the original material that featured Cato as the late star's sparring opponent. The fact that Martin still appears more to be aping Sellers doing the part rather than creating a believable (if purposefully cartoonish), standalone character doesn't help matters, particularly in regards to the attempts at verbal humor.

A subplot featuring a returning Emily Mortimer (as the sidekick character played by Jean Reno -- reprising his role -- looks on) and the bumbling cop facing competition from Garcia's character for the affections of her heart similarly ends up limp. Coupled with ultra drab cinematography (unless it was our screening's projection, this should be up there for worst looking picture of 2009) and talented performers' abilities being wasted, and this offering ends up being even more of an ordeal to sit through than the original. And there's no question about that.

Befitting its numerical ranking in what will undoubtedly be a long line of sequels (considering that audiences seem to love goofy comedies in dire economic times), "The Pink Panther 2" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 2, 2009 / Posted February 6, 2009

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