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Originally published Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 2:50 PM

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Movie review

Clouseau's bumbling appeal still a mystery to Martin

"The Pink Panther 2" is a flimsy sequel to Steve Martin's 2006 attempt to resurrect the comedy franchise that became Peter Sellers' most successful series.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 1.5 stars

"The Pink Panther 2," with Steve Martin, John Cleese, Alfred Molina, Lily Tomlin, Jeremy Irons. Directed by Harald Zwart, from a screenplay by Martin, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. 92 minutes. Rated PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action. Several theaters.

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Peter Sellers' frequently hilarious "Pink Panther" comedies reached their peak with the second installment, 1964's "A Shot in the Dark." Alas, the second time proves no charm for "The Pink Panther 2," Steve Martin's latest flimsy attempt to resurrect Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau for the 21st century.

It doesn't help that Martin (who plays Clouseau and co-wrote the script) keeps trying to make a conventional hero of the man, even introducing him this time as "the top detective in the world."

At least sensible Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) isn't buying it, although he mostly registers his objections by banging his head against the wall and hoping someone will acknowledge Clouseau's incompetence.

To Dreyfus' chagrin, Clouseau becomes part of an international "Dream Team" trying to track down a runaway thief known as The Tornado.

Alfred Molina comes closest to stealing the movie as the most flamboyant member of the team, while Lily Tomlin earns a few chuckles as an unfortunately minor character who sternly tries to teach political correctness to Clouseau. Jeremy Irons drops by for an aimless minute or two.

Martin's first "Pink Panther" comedy grossed $158 million worldwide in 2006, which explains the existence of the sequel. But he's still spectacularly wrong for the role. He seems stifled by it and condescending toward it.

Except for one very funny scene in which Clouseau giddily juggles wine bottles and accidentally burns down a restaurant, Martin behaves as if he dislikes Clouseau's clueless, hopelessly romantic awkwardness — which Sellers always embraced as the source of his enduring appeal.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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