There was a time when the teaming of Steve Martin, John Cleese and Lily Tomlin would have sent tsunami sized ripples through the comedy world. Mr. Wild and Crazy paired with comedy legends from Monty Python and Laugh In would have guaranteed laughs and big box office mojo. That would have been 1978. Unfortunately for us and them, it’s 2009. The three comedy legends co-star in the unimaginatively titled Pink Panther 2, an uninspired and unnecessary sequel to Martin’s 2006 reimagining of the classic Peter Seller’s character.
The movie’s premise is thin even for a February comedy. In fact, it’s thin enough to make Paul Blart: Mall Cop look nuanced. It begins with a super villain named El Tornado thieving the world’s greatest treasures—the Magna Carta from England, Italy’s Shroud of Turin and a Japanese Imperial Sword. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) of the French police is forced to assign Jacques Clouseau, “the world’s greatest detective,” to the case. The situation becomes complicated when El Tornado steals the national French treasure The Pink Panther and Clouseau must work with an international team of detectives to solve the case.
Inspector Clouseau has suffered cinematic indignities in the past. Both Roger Moore and Alan Arkin bungled their way through past adaptations, but the Martin’s take on the character lowers the bar to untold depths. There was a time when Martin’s out-there brand of humor shook up the comedy world, rebelling against exactly the kind of comedy pabulum that is imprinted on every frame of Panther 2.
Where to start?
His ever changing vocal inflection sounds like Elmer Fudd doing the Wild and Crazy Guys accent. More annoying than funny. More annoying than anything else.
The script, the thing that passes for comedy writing here, is formulaic and flat. There isn’t a line in this movie that even approaches the pure comedy mania of the “That is not my doog” scene in The Pink Panther Strikes Back and even the slapstick is so predictable that Buster Keaton would have thought of these gags as old hat. Only one set piece, where Clouseau burns down a restaurant while juggling bottles of wine, hints at what could have been if anyone on either side of the camera put in the effort.
Worst of all is Martin’s take on the character. In Seller’s hands the Clouseau was an inspired collection of quirks and tics; a doofus but a well meaning one. Martin has subtly changed Clouseau into an arrogant, petty bumbler. The difference? One was lovable and funny and one isn’t.
February is quickly turning into the “I’m only in it for the money month” where good actors stoop to making crap for a quick paycheque. It’s bad enough that Martin makes movies like this, but why does he have to bring Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irons, Alfred Molina and Jean Reno down with him?
The first Martin Pink Panther wasn’t funny but nonetheless made a lot of money. As a potential audience member keep this old saying in mind, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Don’t get sucked in again. Stay home. Rent A Shot in the Dark and remember when someone knew how to get real laughs playing the clueless Inspector Clouseau.