It’s so dispiriting to remember when Steve Martin was actually funny.
The eccentric things he did during his stand-up act with just a pair of Groucho glasses and a few balloons; sulking through his mansion collecting his essential belongings (e.g. a paddleball) in The Jerk; prancing around with Martin Short to “My Little Buttercup” in ¡Three Amigos!; spooning with the late John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles; coming up with “20 something betters” during a dart game in Roxanne.
There are so many hilarious scenes Martin has taken part in over the years (most of them in the ’80s), it’s difficult not to wince when you watch him devote his entire self to something as cushy as The Pink Panther 2, see it implode, and wonder why no one bothered to tell him how lousy the first one was.
As he did in the film’s 2006 predecessor — a pointless remake of the Blake Edwards 1963 comedy — Martin plays Inspector Jacques Clouseau like a shoddy carbon copy of Peter Sellers’ original French detective. Where Sellers embodied the character, Martin seems to clock in just long enough to trip over police tape and mispronounce the word “hamburger” for the umpteenth time.
In this predictable addition to the franchise, Clouseau is promoted from his “top-level” post as a meter maid to the leader of an “international dream team” of detectives on the trail of a globetrotting thief known as the Tornado who has stolen precious artifacts from around the world, including the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, and the Imperial Sword. Summoned moments before the Pink Panther diamond is pocketed from Paris, Clouseau teams up with fellow gumshoes (played by Garcia, Molina, Bachchan, and Yuki Matsuzaki) to track the Tornado to Rome.
Considering the first movie earned an unimpressive $82 million at the box office, one can only speculate why any of these series newcomers (not to mention Lily Tomlin, John Cleese, and Jeremy friggin’ Irons!) decided to sign on. It’s fairly evident Clouseau isn’t the only one who’s clueless here.
Whatever the reason, their enlistment can’t possibly be for the humorless material — written by Martin and first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — which confuses dry comedy with witless banter. A scene in which Clouseau’s right-hand-man, Ponton (Jean Reno), spends an evening washing his friend’s hair in the sink falls flat from the onset, but director Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks) gives Martin free reign to do just about anything he wants for as long as he sees fit. The excessively infantile sketch turns into a joke about the pronunciation of “jojoba shampoo” while the duo dance a conga in the kitchen.
The only real evidence of Sellers’ earlier films is, of course, Henry Mancini’s timeless theme song, which only dulls the pain for so long. Then you’ll be paralyzed by dull slapstick and forced to suffer alongside a wasted secondary cast and an unimaginative leading man who, at this point, no punch line could save.