Steve Martin's a really tough guy to dislike, though he's caught a lot of flack for his choices in film roles for, oh, about the last 20 years. No role has been more controversial that his assay of Inspector Clouseau from recent reimaginings of the Pink Panther movies. Though his talent is such that he's able to completely separate the man from the role in these movies, you're still vaguely aware you're watching Steve Martin - but maybe more of a martinet than the real thing. It's a good thing, as it keeps The Pink Panther 2 from being a huge disappointment, instead rendering it a small achievement in mildly amusing cinema - a decent-enough way to pass 90 minutes if you really don't want to be challenged on a Friday night.
The Pink Panther 2 fully embraces the concept of 'broad'. Humor is broad, plot is broader. Some super-thief - nom-de-plunder is The Tornado - has been swiping icons including the Shroud of Turin and the Pope's ring. Other icons I can't remember, they've vanished from my mind like the mere whiff of air constituting this movie. Nonetheless, super-detectives from across the globe are assembled to solve these crimes, including Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, and a little chiquiquita meant to fluster our hero, inspector Jacques Clouseau - assayed with tragically misguided sincerity by the quixotic Steve Martin. Steve Martin, I love. His movie choices, (with a few exceptions) I've detested since about 1985. How can a man so talented, with such purported integrity, make movies like The Pink Panther 2? Might be the ducats, which makes me sad since Martin's probably got enough already. Well, OK then, let's try to tear this movie down.
Many silly, some marginally funny, and one - possibly two or three - things that will make you laugh out loud occur, before Clouseau wraps things up in a big pink bow. It is quite nice to be reassured that everything is going to be OK when dropping twenty bucks on a movie, but can't we at least get some credit once in a while? When in an investigative frenzy Clouseau dons the Pope's garb in self-absorbed seriousness, it sounds a bell of warning. But what happens next is so ridiculously over the top you can't help but laugh. It's a good feeling. But when he's juggling precious bottles of wine in a fancy restaurant, clever physical comedy is edited into inertia with the help of precious music (something that plagues the film) and precision decision-making that defuses any of the wacky tension that your average Three Stooges bit would have thrived upon.
As if focus-tested engineering doesn't do enough damage to comedy bits, adding a totally unnecessary romance to the mix between the inspector and his tragically hot secretary Nicole (Emily Mortimer) smacks too thoroughly of effort - the kind of effort meant to please everybody, all of the time. No offense, but the target audience The Pink Panther 2 aims for (those who need easily understandable comedy, a romance, and everything spelled out for them) is the audience ... the audience ... OK, I'm taking the high road here. Let's just say we all deserve more - the more coming from one of this movie's few bright spots, the curious presence of Jean Reno. Reno's gone from Leon-badass to this; a cuckolded, child befuddled yes-man to Clouseau (one forced to riff on the word 'jojoba' - possibly the worst scene committed to celluloid this decade). Yet Reno's ability to endow Gilbert Ponton with humanity and realism is fantastic. He's aged into sincere Everyman with not only dignity but also fierce integrity. He's actually a much more logical (if not totally counter-intuitive) choice to play Clouseau.
Nominal Steve Martin vehicle The Pink Panther 2 basically fails hard. It's got a handful of funny bits and a few performances (or performers) much better than warranted, but otherwise it's a brain-dead wash. Sure, we all want to shut it off once in a while, and just get a few laughs on a Friday night, but The Pink Panther 2 shouldn't be the only way to get them. Sensibly safe, bland and tepid, this movie speaks mostly to Jean Reno's ability to transcend, while Martin gives just enough to make it seem real while coasting in to a spanky payday. You can find a worse way to give the gray matter a rest after a tough week, so we'll give this a scornful Rent It, while asking you to look a little harder. (You know your 'video store' has sections other than the New Releases area, don't you?)