Back in the fun, free-basing '70s, Steve Martin was a stand-up comic god. Me Decade audiences lined up for hours to see this one-man Beatles of absurdist humor. They bought his albums, memorized his skits -- even stayed up late to see him swing with groovy foxes as part of a then-relevant Saturday Night Live. Fast forward 30 years, and the formerly wild and crazy guy has decided to follow fellow SNL alum Eddie Murphy into the fetid family film arena. With a couple of Cheaper by the Dozens under his belt, Martin is now mangling the legacy of one of film's greatest comedy franchises. No matter how hard he tries, however, he can't completely kill the legacy of the Pink Panther. This unnecessary sequel does come awfully close, though.
When four of the world's most valuable artifacts -- the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, the Royal Emperor's Sword, and France's famous Pink Panther diamond -- are stolen by master thief The Tornado, a dream team of detectives is assembled. They include British sleuth Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Italian officer Vincenzo (Andy Garcia), Japanese tech expert Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki), and of course, inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin). Helped by Sonia (Aishwarya Rai), a special agent from India, and the French home team including Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese), Poton (Jean Reno), and political correctness liaison Mrs. Berenger (Lily Tomlin), all paths appear to lead to exiled art dealer Avellaneda (Jeremy Irons). But even in light of all the obvious evidence, Clouseau thinks he knows the identity of the real culprit.
If the first Pink Panther remake was the entertainment equivalent of re-experiencing the grief over original genius Peter Sellers' untimely death, Pink Panther 2 is like dancing on the British funnyman's grave. It's akin to whistling past the cemetery and spitting on the mourners inside. It says something about the quality of material here that both Academy Award winner Kevin Kline and Jay-Z's squeeze Beyonce bowed out this time around. In their place are a bevy of polished, professional actors who should really know better, and a storyline that sacrifices intelligence for sloppy CGI-aided slapstick -- and when it's all over, we barely remember what happened.
The lack of imagination and inspiration is stunning. Martin's hate-crime-lite accent wraps around impossibly dumb malapropisms as if merely misspeaking any word in the English language will garner instant giggles. He is matched by his clueless collaborators, all of whom ratchet up the brogue for supposed belly laughs. One feels especially bad for Reno, reduced to an impotent running gag, while Garcia, Molina, and Rai merely take up space. Like the haphazard Disney comedies of the '70s, the action frequently stops dead so that director Harald Zwart can stage another uninspired bit of physical comedy. If anyone other than the Sellers' estate should be offended, it's Blake Edwards. The Hollywood heavyweight, known for helming some of the best films of the '60s and '70s, gets his legacy undercut by this Panther's pathetic pratfalls.
Even if we were to consider the demographic and argue that Martin has made yet another PG-oriented celluloid babysitter, the witlessness on display argues for child abuse, not appeasement. There are so many dead spots in the script that you wonder if some of the onset bloopers couldn't have been substituted in their place. Nothing with Irons' character works, and when Clouseau and implied love interest Emily Mortimer (as poor, put-upon policewoman Nicole) get romantic, the lack of chemistry is appalling. Three decades ago Steve Martin was considered a true comedy original. The Pink Panther 2 proves he's now nothing more than a paycheck-cashing hack.
I'm going to have to ask for my check in advance.