When Steve Martin arrived on the comedy scene more than 30 years ago, he found his niche by bucking trends and defying convention. He's gotten pretty middle-of-the-road since then, particularly in the mediocre (or worse) films he's made in the last couple decades, but it turns out he can still surprise us: Despite being a sequel that is completely unnecessary, The Pink Panther 2 is actually better than its predecessor.
It's nothing compared to the Peter Sellers originals, of course -- it's still mediocre, if harmlessly so -- but we'll take our small victories where we can find them. The misguided 2006 reboot, badly directed by Shawn Levy, was a sweaty, desperate mess; this one, in contrast, directed more confidently by Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks), is easygoing and smooth. It has several funny sequences and a general tone of good-natured frivolity. I rarely felt like the movie was trying to force me to laugh, which I felt constantly during the last one.
Martin returns as the idiotic Inspector Clouseau, now on parking-enforcement duty in Paris because Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) got tired of his wacky shenanigans in the detective squad. Clouseau is called back into action, however, to be France's representative in an international dream team of detectives assigned to investigate a string of high-profile thefts. Someone calling himself The Tornado has been making off with things like the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, and, yes, the Pink Panther diamond, and for some reason Clouseau is considered France's greatest detective.