Upon beginning this review of The Pink Panther 2 (2009), there was one thought that ticked slightly above idle curiosity: why did Kevin Kline not return as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus? Instead, the role is filled by John Cleese. I am not complaining. As a Monty Python fan, I like Cleese. I am not sure why he opted to not do the outrageous French accent like most of the other on-screen talent, but that is the least of the problems with this film. The only answer I could come up with for why it is Cleese and not Kline is that the latter had a prior commitment. These things happen. I also doubt they were going to hold up the production of The Pink Panther 2 to accommodate Kline’s schedule. It has the feel of a movie that, as long as they had Steve Martin as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, they were not going to fuss about the rest.
To reintroduce you to the main character, who, again, as not a rose-colored apex predator as a title like The Pink Panther 2 might suggest, we get the case that will attract his, um . . . talents. There is a thief going by the name of “The Tornado” stealing priceless artifacts from around the world. This includes, unfortunately for this Catholic, the Shroud of Turin, but we will talk about that later. To find the perpetrator, a multi-national group of detectives going by the “Dream Team” is assembled. Much to the Chief Inspector’s horror, who still holds a grudge against Inspector Clouseau from the last movie, the French contribution to this group of gumshoes is to be the dimwitted Inspector Clouseau. Because he attracts accidents like a magnet, the Chief Inspector has Inspector Clouseau patrolling the streets and handing out parking tickets. There are two people who do not mind his antics. The first is his love interest from the last film, a secretary at police headquarters, Nicole Durant (Emily Mortimer). Unfortunately, things are a little awkward between them since while on a recent date in Rome, Inspector Clouseau managed to burn down the restaurant in his clumsiness. Please take this as symbolic of the kinds of things that routinely happen around him. The other is his partner, Gendarme Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno). He is the one that is to go with Inspector Clouseau to join the Dream Team. He is stopped from doing so when France’s beloved “Pink Panther” diamond (hence the title) is stolen by the Tornado. Thus, the group comes to France, and they are joined by a potential rival for Inspector Clouseau’s affections, Sonia Solandres (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). She is more than a pretty face, but also the only known expert on The Tornado. While she attempts to get closer to Inspector Clouseau, Italian detective Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleoni (Andy Garcia) makes eyes at Nicole. This becomes a problem when the team goes to Rome to follow a lead suggested by Sonia. As Inspector Clouseau and Ponton stake out a restaurant where their main suspect, Alonso Avellaneda (Jeremy Irons), is having dinner, Inspector Clouseau notices Brancaleoni (bet you were wondering what name I was going to shorten to!) sitting down in the same establishment with Nicole. There follows a comedic set piece featuring Inspector Clouseau disguising himself as a matador in order to gain access, since it is the same place he had inadvertently burned down recently. He is doing so to switch the listening device over to Brancaleoni and Nicole’s table, but in the process manages to commit unintentional arson once again. While this distraction goes on, the Tornado strikes again, this time taking a ring off the finger of the Pope (Yevgeni Lazarev). The Dream Team are called upon to investigate and Inspector Clouseau makes a fiasco of it. Dressed as the Pope, he manages to fall off the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square to the astonishment of the Faithful. Inspector Clouseau is disgraced once more, and decides to go home. Further, the rest of the team votes to kick him out, which he finds out shortly before they announce solving the case. As a courtesy, they take him to the scene of an apparent suicide of a man claiming to be the Tornado. They also find the pilfered merchandise on the premises. Inspector Clouseau does not believe that the crime has been figured out, but such is the evidence that nobody will believe him. There is one curious piece still unresolved, and it is that the Pink Panther is still missing. The note claims it had been destroyed. In any case, it means further humiliation for Inspector Clouseau. He is back to parking ticket duty and is outside the hall where they are honoring the remaining members of the dream team for their hard work. As he is out there, Sonia pulls up. After she enters the building, Inspector Clouseau looks at her license plate and it triggers a memory that connects her to the theft of the Pink Diamond. I am going to save you (and myself) some trouble here and tell you that she is the real Tornado. This is made obvious when Inspector Clouseau attempts to get the Chief Inspector to believe his claims. The Chief Inspector summarily dismisses Inspector Clouseau, and blabs about the accusations to the Dream Team with whom he is sitting at the gala. It is Nicole who accepts them, and when she tries to get Sonia to empty her purse, the so-called expert runs. On the heels of a few more scenes of physical comedy (read as a chase), Sonia is apprehended. There is one last attempt on her part to destroy the stone so that no one can have it, but luckily Inspector Clouseau had the real stone the entire time. Brancaleoni sees the affection Nicole has for Inspector Clouseau, and he encourages them to get back together. We close with them getting married in the Chief Inspector’s office, but not without one last disastrous outcome for everyone but the bride and groom.
Though I would stop short of calling The Pink Panther 2 “disastrous,” it also does not have much to recommend it. For one thing, it is pretty much a carbon copy of the first movie, with the same jokes and structure. Perhaps this is why Kline had “other commitments” at the time of shooting. I am not overly thrilled with the bits of Catholicism seen in it, either. They show the opulence of the Vatican, poking fun at the palace in which the Pope sleeps. The tired argument is that the Church has all this stuff, which, on the surface, does not appear to fit with what Jesus would want of the Church Universal. That is what “Catholicism” means, by the way. At any rate, talk about a case of judging a book by its cover. People who say such things ignore the vast amount of charitable work done by Catholics throughout the centuries, not to mention bringing the Eucharist and the Word to the far reaches of the earth. That is its mission, and it has been doing that from the beginning. These kinds of misconceptions speak to stereotypes about the Church, which are, of course, insidious. This is made all silly when the film rails against generalizations against groups of people, while using those same ideas to make the characters of the Dream Team representative of what we commonly think about of people from those countries.
Yes, The Pink Panther 2 is pretty bad. It is also mostly harmless, aside from the stereotypes described in the previous paragraph. I say it is “harmless” because it is rated PG, and thus nothing in it is too morally objectionable. The biggest problem I had with it is the handling of the Shroud of Turin. If you are not familiar, it is the cloth laid over Jesus after they put him in the tomb following His Crucifixion. What they do to it in the movie is sacrilege. I do not care if this is a comedy, you do not shake a relic like that, ever.