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Video: 'The Pink Panther 2': Feb. 6

By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/3/2009 6:05:52 PM ET 2009-02-03T23:05:52

A quick tip for those MGM executives so starved of new ideas that they’re plundering the vaults for properties, like “The Pink Panther,” to remake: Blake Edwards is still alive. And yes, the genius behind the original “Panther” movies may have eventually run that franchise into the ground, but I’d still rather watch the one with Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s son than endure another go-round with Steve Martin lazily hamming it up.

“Pink Panther 2,” to give credit where it is due, is less of a chore to watch than was the previous installment, but that’s like saying stepping in dog droppings is preferable to having your shoe go ankle-deep in cow flop.

Even with two or three actual laughs to be found in the film’s seemingly interminable 92-minute running time, “Pink Panther 2” is an astonishingly lazy, unattractive and indifferently-acted comedy that wastes the talents of comic geniuses John Cleese and Lily Tomlin. Heck, even Emily Mortimer had far funnier things to do in a handful of “30 Rock” appearances than she’s given here.

The vain and clumsy Inspector Clouseau (Martin) — who has been kicked back to parking detail by Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Cleese) — is summoned to join a crack squad of international detectives after a mysterious thief known as The Tornado makes off with the Magna Carta, the Japanese imperial sword and the Shroud of Turin. The film demonstrates its wit and intelligence in dealing with different nationalities by giving us an Italian lothario (Andy Garcia), a haughty and officious Brit (Alfred Molina) and a gadget-obsessed Japanese gumshoe (Yuki Matsuzaki).

And if for no other reason than to guarantee a boffo opening weekend in India, lovely Bollywood icon Aishwarya Rai Bachchan comes along for the ride playing an expert on The Tornado, even though the film gives her nothing funny to say or interesting to do. Jeremy Irons, at least, had the good sense to go uncredited for a cameo appearance as The Tornado’s fence.

You can pretty much guess what happens: Clouseau says inappropriate things, Clouseau breaks stuff, Clouseau winds up being smarter than anyone else in the movie. And while the vintage “Panther” movies were never known for their unpredictability, at least Peter Sellers was always delivering the laughs. Martin can’t come close to the original when it comes to hauteur or a silly French accent, and it’s painful watching him try.

Video: ‘The Pink Panther 2’ world premiere Cleese, apart from an early bit of physical comedy that briefly calls to mind his classic Ministry of Silly Walks bit, is criminally underused and never allowed to build up a slow-burning fuse of rage like Herbert Lom once did. As for Tomlin’s thankless role as an expert in workplace political correctness, the less said, the better; her comic gifts will no doubt find better showcases in the near future.

At least they all got a trip to France out of this.

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