<em>Pink Panther 2</em> stars Steve Martin being silly again.

Jumping into the fizzy fray of sometimes-funny gags, fumbling antics, and the mangled Franglais of Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau promises just about enough charms to make a visit to Pink Panther 2 worthwhile; just enough laughable moments help us forgive the warbling unevenness of the whole. All the while, though, ghosts of movies past nag us, in a phenom similar to watching Steve Carrell give his goofy all to Maxwell Smart in Get Smart. Viewers of a certain age, privy to the beauty of the original Pink Panther, may find themselves hamstrung in comparison mode.

In short, this second volume of the new Martin-ized franchise cannot legitimately be called Pink Panther 2, but rather Pink Panther 2.2, a meeker modern spin-off of the classic series cooked up by the likes of Peter Sellers, director Blake Edwards, and composer Henry Mancini. Thankfully, Mancini’s signature theme handiwork, with its skulking sleekness and swinging B section, is intact here. Then again, a Mancini-free Pink Panther would truly be a punishable offense.

This time around, Clouseau is upgraded from his punitive detail as a Parisian meter man to an elite cross-cultural “dream team” of detectives. They have been assigned to solve the Tornado’s series of high profile heists, including the Shroud of Turin, the Pope’s ring, and the precious French diamond, the “Pink Panther.” “Let me bring you up to speed,” Clouseau tells a late-arriving team member at the initial meeting. “We know nothing. Now you are up to speed.”

This narrative clothesline allows for roving locations and opportunities for bungling comedic high jinx of varying spark. In one surprisingly hilarious scene, the team is distracting a suspect (Jeremy Irons) in his mansion while we watch Martin in Chaplin-esque pratfalls on the security monitors behind them. Later, the historical comedy paradigm is the Keystone Kops, as the team falls on its face, in cakes, and into other compromising situations, and Clouseau works his inevitable way toward getting the girl and solving the case. By film’s end, all is well, except that police domo John Cleese is left hanging, without a password. Don’t ask.


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