To understand what a bummer The Pink Panther 2 is, please set your Wayback Machine to 1963, the year of the original film's release. That's the first time viewers saw Peter Sellers as one-man disaster factory Jacques Clouseau. The character became an instant hit, thanks to an unbeatable combination of slapstick, sophistication, and pitch-perfect comic timing. Sadly, this Clouseau must have gone out to lunch, supplanted by a tactless impostor whose entire life is one big pratfall. The result? A film more sad than it is even mildly amusing.
Having resurrected the character in a 2006 remake, Steve Martin returns to play the accident-prone Inspector Clouseau. Despite his reputation as a perpetual klutz, our hero has somehow become renowned as the world's greatest detective, much to the chagrin of his boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese). Although relegated to doling out parking tickets, Clouseau is still in demand for his crimefighting talents. A mysterious thief known as the Tornado has been jet-setting around the world and stealing all manner of artifacts, from the Shroud of Turin to the Magna Carta. It's not long before the Tornado swipes the invaluable Pink Panther diamond, at which point Clouseau dives headfirst into the case. Aided by an international team of super-sleuths, Clouseau sets out to bring back these national treasures safe and sound -- that is, if his clumsiness doesn't botch the investigation first.
I like to think comedy isn't a lost art. I have my hopes that filmmakers still exist who can devise clever ways of getting audiences to chuckle, rather than go for cheap laughs time and time again. But it's hard to be optimistic when something like The Pink Panther 2 stumbles its way into multiplexes every other weekend. I wasn't a fan of the 2006 version, yet I'm willing to let it off the hook. It had a few funny tidbits, and, best of all, it actually felt like filmmakers tried to make something halfway decent. The same can't be said for number deux, which suffers from sequelitis in the worst of ways. Like so many follow-ups made to cash in on the success of their predecessors, The Pink Panther 2 spends most of its time recycling the original's gags. But once that well runs dry, the film pretty much slaps everyone with a funny accent and calls it a day. It's the ultimate comedic low, worsened by what little interest the script displays in devising new material. A character played by Lily Tomlin, hired to school an uncouth Clouseau, had potential, but she too became a victim of the movie's dearth of humor.
I'm also fairly certain that The Pink Panther 2 sets a record for wasting the biggest collection of talent in the shortest amount of time. All actors have their fair share of stinkers, but in this mess, nobody's having a good day. In the case of star Martin, he has no one to blame but himself. Having co-written the script, he holds just as much responsibility for the movie's failure to launch as Harald Zwart's unimaginative direction. Martin's Clouseau is nowhere near as distinctive as Sellers' rendition, his stereotypical accent and penchant for bad slapstick inducing more sighs than laughs. In addition to Tomlin, the supporting cast is full of familiar faces, from Alfred Molina as a British sleuth to Andy Garcia as a smooth-talking Italian sleuth. Their performances aren't necessarily bad, but they don't get to do much, aside from rolling their eyes at Clouseau's hijinks. The only performers to make an impression are Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as the token eye candy, Jean Reno as Clouseau's faithful sidekick, and Cleese, who wisely doesn't even attempt a French accent as Dreyfus.
While I had a miserable time with this film, other viewers may not feel the same way. The audience at the screening I attended had a good time and offered up a consistent stream of hearty chuckles. But if you're someone who tends to be selective about what you laugh at, The Pink Panther 2 will do little to change your taste for better movie humor.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG" for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action.)