Remember when Steve Martin was a comic genius? No? Me either, although technically I still categorize him as one. His last major foray onto the big screen was The Pink Panther in 2006 (last year’s cameo in Baby Mama doesn’t count) and before that it was in the ever forgettable Cheaper by the Dozen 2.
Picking up where he left off, Martin is back as the fumbling and bumbling French Inspector Jacques Cousteau in The Pink Panther 2. His latest case is to track down a master cat burglar known as “The Tornado”, a thief responsible for the theft of priceless artifacts like the Shroud of Turin and the Magna Carta. And when the Pink Panther diamond Cousteau is entrusted to protect gets snatched, Cousteau finds himself in command of an elite squad of detectives — Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki), Vicenzo (Andy Garcia), Sonia (Aishwarya Rai) and Pepperidge (Alfred Molina) — enlisted to help in solving the capers. Why he is put in charge of such a high profile case when others are so much more qualified is an unknown (especially since Cousteau has been demoted to directing traffic). My guess is so we, the viewer, can laugh uncontrollably at Cousteau’s obvious, but unintentional, asinine antics and everyone’s confused and bewildered reactions to them.
We do get plenty of befuddled looks and ridiculously stupid prat falls but what is ominously missing are the laughs. The Pink Panther 2 has taken away the childlike naivety that made Cousteau idiotically charming. He’s certainly just as uncoordinated as always, but he is now appears unapologetic for his disastrous ways. Of course it could be said that in many instances he doesn’t even realize he’s at the center of the hurricane, but when he does he carries on as if he’s done no wrong. Even Mr. Bean, who acts in the same vain as Cousteau, is more apologetic, and he’s a retard! Eventually, for me, all these ridiculous interludes became rather crass and irritating to witness.
Who is at fault? Director Harald Zwart (probably best known for directing Agent Cody Banks) is most to blame. As the “Dream Team” of detectives spans the globe for clues, he clumsily throws and films uninspired gags for all to run headlong in to. The Vatican scene that gets so much airplay in advertisements has so much upside that is was physically painful to watch how it actually unfolds. Same could be said about the restaurant scene in which Cousteau tries to disguise himself as a flamenco dancer. How or why this venerable list of who’s who of the acting world (it also stars, Emily Mortimer, John Cleese, Jean Reno and Jeremy Irons, among others) decided to lend their talents to this is a thousand-fold more perplexing of a mystery than the one they’re trying to solve in the film. There is simply so much more for them to do that this is where I found the humor at, unintentional as it may have been.
For what it is worth, Steve Martin still manages to trip, flip and tumble like a champ. That alone is worth something — it’s just too bad that his physical comedy prowess is wasted on The Pink Panther 2. Peter Sellers is turning in his grave at this very moment. Blake Edwards, I’d guess, is probably trying to join him.