Ten things I can tell you after seeing "The Pink Panther 2":
1. Nothing is harder and more elusive than successful slapstick on screen. Nothing.
2. There's a reason "The Pink Panther" and "A Shot in the Dark" hold up. Those were the first two films featuring the peerlessly confident dolt Inspector Clouseau as played by Peter Sellers and directed by Blake Edwards. The gags came in all sizes, but they rarely left character in the dust.
3. Why did the later Sellers/Edwards Clouseau pictures get to be such a drag? Because Edwards started confusing bigger and more destructive with funnier. What do you remember more fondly? Sellers wreaking elegant havoc at the billiards table? Or, years later, the exhausting Herbert Lom trying to incinerate his nemesis with a doomsday machine?
4. The funniest bit in the strained 2006 "Pink Panther" remake starring Steve Martin was verbal slapstick, as opposed to physical. I'm speaking of the English lesson in which Martin's Clouseau tries to learn the phrase "I would like to buy a hamburger." Martin is hilarious with this sort of mangle-mouthed routine. He's also a formidable physical comedian, and now that he's in his early 60s (Sellers was in his late 30s when he made the original "Pink Panther" and "A Shot in the Dark," also known as "the good ones") you don't want to see him -- or, just as often, Martin's double -- getting thrown through walls or onto coffee tables. You want to see what he can do, not what he can't.
5. In "The Pink Panther 2" the cast sprints way, way out ahead of the material, and miles ahead of the director, Harald Zwart. I enjoyed Emily Mortimer, back as Nicole, Clouseau's soul mate. Andy Garcia (as a rakish Italian sleuth) has a funny bit with a mirror, involving Jeremy Irons, who looks vaguely distressed at finding himself in a disposable "Pink Panther" sequel.
6. The vibe of "PP2" is more consciously '60s than Martin's earlier Clouseau adventure. The ensemble includes a returning Jean Reno as Clouseau's right-hand man, and John Cleese replacing Kevin Kline as Inspector Dreyfus, who has mysteriously morphed from French to English.
7. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan portrays an expert on the subject of the suspected diamond thief who steals the Panther, along with the Shroud of Turin and the pope's ring. She's not what you'd call unsightly. She is in fact what you'd call "sightly." This is all the movie asks of her.
8. Here's the big problem with "PP2": Most of it, even the routine stuff, would work twice as well if director Zwart and editor Julia Wong eased up and allowed the performers to interact -- to do their thing in medium shot, without a lot of pushy close-ups and overemphasis, so that their bodies might inform what their faces are up to.
9. When Martin shares a scene with Lily Tomlin, his "All of Me" cohort (she plays a political-correctness counselor, appalled at Clouseau's casual, clueless prejudices), you have to smile, partly because they snag some laughs from unpromising setups, and partly because you're remembering back to the dance they did together at the end of "All of Me."
10. Not many performers can earn a fair-sized laugh by pronouncing "island" as "izz-land." Steve Martin is one of them.
'The Pink Panther 2'
Steve Martin in 'The Pink Panther 2'
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