The Pink Panther 2 opens with a series of thefts. The culprit, named The Tornado, absconds with precious national artifacts, including the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, the Imperial Sword, and eventually the treasure of France, the Pink Panther diamond. Selected for an international “Dream Team” of investigators, Inspector Clouseau (Steve Martin) here thwarts the efforts of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) to keep him out of sight (he’s been writing parking tickets, his French Medal of Honor dangling from his neck at all times). Once more plucked out of obscurity and set on his usual path of destruction and humiliation, Clouseau applies his usual ineptitude with gusto. He will, of course, make a fool of himself, on a global scale this time, before proving himself worthy of his Inspector’s rank — and even his Medal of Honor.
Among his distractions is Mrs. Berenger (Lily Tomlin), a sort of sensitivity coach assigned to teach Clouseau that he can’t make racist or sexually charged remarks. Since we already know Clouseau will never learn this lesson, their interaction comes across as forced and pointless. A second storyline centers on the maybe-romantic relationship between Clouseau and his assistant Nicole (Emily Mortimer), offering occasional relief from the mundane crime investigation and Mrs. Berenger’s incessant scoldings. Clouseau insists that he and Nicole remain professional, unaware that he is hurting her feelings. When Vincenzo (Andy Garcia) makes his own move on her, Clouseau is roused to jealousy, achieving his own meager insight with help from his partner Ponton (Jean Reno). Ah yes, the inspector announces, “No man is an eez-land.”
Much of the “comedy” in The Pink Panther 2 is a rehashing of the jokes from the first film (itself a feeble remake of the original). Just so, Dreyfus suffers frequent injuries inflicted by Clouseau, and we suffer through his mispronunciations of the word “hamburger,” repeated ad nauseam. To pile on, Clouseau and Ponton offer up another awkward dance number while saying the word “jojoba” over and over. In fairness, The Pink Panther 2 does feature a couple of effective sight gags (a vague holdover from the Peter Sellers days). When Clouseau goes to select a bottle of wine at a restaurant, we expect that this simple task will end with every bottle in the towering wine case smashed but instead, an elaborate and frantic juggling act develops. Later, while the rest of the Dream Team interrogates the suspect Avelleneda (Jeremy Irons), all Clouseau’s investigative mishaps are captured soundlessly on the panel of security monitors in the background. While these are decent physical comedy bits in their own right, they are enhanced by the silencing of Martin’s ridiculous approximation of a French accent.
Despite these brief respites, The Pink Panther 2 is glaringly out of date. The post-9/11 anti-French thing is hardly relevant anymore, especially against a backdrop of global economic doom. And the Tornado’s motive for stealing national treasures — for mere sport rather than profit (all but the Pink Panther are considered “unfenceable”) — doesn’t sit quite right in the context of corporate collapse, multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes, and government bailouts. In this the film itself seems an emblem of the conceit and reckless excess associated with the current state of affairs. Has The Pink Panther 2 bumbled into making a relevant point? Idiotic but clever, and very Clouseau-esque.