There are three or four big laughs scattered throughout The Pink Panther 2, along with a smattering of decent chuckles. But all those moments combined account for maybe five minutes of screen time, which leaves you with another hour and a half of movie to sit through.
Steve Martin's second outing as the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau, this time on the trail of a master thief known as The Tornado, is admittedly funnier than the 2006 original. But that movie was so dispiritingly, soul-suckingly bad, there was nowhere left to go but up.
The Pink Panther 2 was directed by Harald Zwart, whose name happens to rhyme with Paul Blart, and who also displays all the cinematic sensibilities of a mall cop. To be fair, though, this is really Martin's show through and through: Whoever took on the mantle of director on this project was there to follow his instructions.
Martin still believes it's funny to watch him wrestle with a thick French accent ("No man eez an ees-land!"), and he has assembled a supporting cast of talented has-beens (including Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Jeremy Irons and Lily Tomlin), nearly all of whom are given their own impenetrable accent to use in mangling their dialogue (several times during a preview screening, I heard a woman sitting behind me asked her companion "What did he say?'')
The scenes between Martin and Tomlin (playing a human resources employee assigned to teach Clouseau proper office etiquette) will seem particularly sad to anyone who remembers their first on-screen pairing in 1984's All of Me. In that movie, Martin was still an inventive and energetic performer who understood one of the keys to screen comedy is to continually spring the unexpected and the outrageous on the audience.
The Pink Panther 2, though, falls in line with Martin's recent spate of family-oriented pictures like Father of the Bride or Cheaper by the Dozen or the execrable Bringing Down the House. Like Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, Martin has sold his artistic soul to bland, wholesome comedies designed to be screened in malls, cruise ships and children's playrooms everywhere.
It's a lucrative niche - the first Pink Panther made $150 million worldwide - but it's also more than a little lazy. If you're planning a family outing to the movies this weekend, take the kids to see Coraline. That one has soul, ambition and wit, all the things The Pink Panther 2 has no use for.