The notion of anyone taking over the part of Inspector Jacques Clouseau—Peter Sellers' signature role in a series of broad, beloved, Blake Edwards-directed detective farces—belongs in a file filled with bad ideas. (Perhaps it could nestle between Indiana Jones-meets-aliens and "Let's let Kevin Costner make another post-apocalyptic epic.") Still, while the 2006 reboot The Pink Panther had little to recommend it, star Steve Martin was never the problem; he used the role as an excuse to unlock a gift for silly voices and buffoonery kept in the vault by movies like Cheaper By The Dozen. Though his performance wasn't worlds apart from Sellers', he memorably defined his Clouseau as a supremely self-confident idiot oblivious to the chaos he created, and he rode that idea through every weak gag the movie threw his way, between a few cute bits with Emily Mortimer as his lovestruck assistant.
The Pink Panther 2 plays like an undeserved victory lap for a series that only limped to the finish line the last time. It sets up false hope by getting its one big laugh out of the way in the opening scene, as John Cleese, subbing in for Kevin Kline as Martin's bedeviled boss, takes his frustration to a masochistic extreme. Sophisticated comedy it isn't, but at least Cleese, like Martin, appears to be trying. The same can't be said of the movie around them, which sluggishly proceeds through a plot about a master thief named The Tornado and the international-box-office-friendly team of detectives (whose ranks include Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, and Aishwarya Rai) charged with getting to the bottom of the crimes.
This apparently requires a lot of scenes in which most everyone stands around to make room for artlessly filmed, breathlessly executed bits of physical comedy from Martin, who labors hard to little reward. An extended scene in which Martin roughhouses with some children suggests the sequel's true audience, although kids will likely be baffled by a running gag in which Lily Tomlin pops up to instruct Martin in the politically correct ways of the modern workplace. There's a bit of the old spark in the All Of Me stars' scenes together, but those flashes only raise this question: Don't they have anything better to do?