While sitting in his sumptuously grand and gilded office in Paris, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) worries about the public pressure on him to solve a high-profile murder-a soccer coach who took a poison dart in the neck as he celebrated a stunning victory for his team-and the simultaneous theft of the victim's prized, rosy-hued diamond ring, the fabled Pink Panther.

How can he avoid the media glare, Dreyfus wonders, while he goes about solving this difficult case? Mon Dieu! Why not just turn the whole thing over to that infamous buffoon, Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin), whose incompetent bumblings will give the press and the public plenty to natter about while Dreyfus quietly finds the murderer and the diamond and becomes a hero worthy of the honor he has long coveted, his nation's Medal of Honor?

Those who follow the logic of Dreyfus's decision will have no problems with the rest of the plot in this new Pink Panther-which was inspired by a series of Clouseau comedies, beginning in the early 1960s, co-written and directed by Blake Edwards. However, plot is not the point here; getting laughs is the point. And there are enough good ones in this completely different sequel to amuse even those skeptics who still believe, in their heart of hearts, that there's only one Inspector Clouseau-the late, very lamented Peter Sellers.

Sellers, of course, was a "natural" comedian; he never had to work at being funny. Martin's tiniest gestures looks studied, if not labored. But still, you have to give him credit, because all of his hard work does pay off. Most of the time. As co-writer of the film, Martin gave himself a variety of classic pratfall setups, along with a few classy new ones. A new take on Sellers' famous globe-twirling bit becomes an effective long-running gag, but Clouseau's constant lunging for lurkers behind the drapes falls flat every time. Martin does make good use of the comic potential in parking his little red Smart Car, and he's wonderfully inventive in a "good cop/bad cop" routine in which he plays both. Also, for younger viewers (do they even know from Pink Panther?), there's a tasteless but funny joke involving flatulence in a soundproof booth.

Martin is more than adequately backed up by a game supporting cast: Kline, who only occasionally seems to wonder what he's doing here; Jean Reno as Clouseau's sardonic sidekick; Emily Mortimer as his always-loyal secretary, and the lovely Beyoncé Knowles as Xania, an international pop star who was betrothed to the murdered soccer coach. Brief appearances are put in by Kristin Chenoweth, PR lady for the soccer team; Roger Rees, a prototypical lounge lizard, and an uncredited Clive Owen as British agent 006, who keeps saying, "Remember, I'm not supposed to be here."

The action in The Pink Panther moves from Paris to New York and back again. Not that it matters. Everyone in the cast is assembled for the finale, at a huge costume ball (where Martin and Reno show up in body suits patterned after the wallpaper) when-sacre bleu!-Clouseau solves the murder and retrieves the Pink Panther. Will that gem of gems resurface again? Will Steve Martin win over a new generation of Clouseau fans who'll clamor for an encore? Only time-and box-office grosses-will tell.

-Shirley Sealy