Ponzi schemes and lowbrow comedies may be the only parts of the U.S. economy that work. The skid mark that is "Paul Blart, Mall Cop" has scarcely been mopped up and now comes Steve Martin's insufferably stupid "Pink Panther 2" (★ out of four stars, rated PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language and action). Recycling bins have fresher content than this listless exercise in check-the-boxes moviemaking.

John Cleese, taking over as Chief Inspector Dreyfus from Kevin Kline, generates the film's only sequence of genuine humor as Clouseau's invincible dumb luck drives him to a fit of head-banging apoplexy. Fifteen minutes into this fiasco and I knew exactly how he felt.

The carefree wit of the Peter Sellers originals is lost here as every scene and performance strains for laughs. The brawling physical comedy is overstaged, the supporting players mug shamelessly (especially Andy Garcia, playing an Italian lothario who is a member of Clouseau's international detective team), and Martin's tongue-twisting accent seems to have come from Pluto, not Paris. Martin not only lacks Sellers' physical comedy chops, but he fluffs the joke, rebounding from pratfalls with a beaming grin, as if to say, "Hey, did you catch that? Wasn't that funny?" Worse, he gives the character a coat of invulnerable smugness. That worked for Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy an eon ago, but it's the wrong tone for this character.

Emily Mortimer returns as Clouseau's prim love interest, and her pinched expression suggests that she has taken her cue from Martin's face-squinching. Also on board are returning sidekick Jean Reno, Alfred Molina as a sleuth from Scotland Yard and a renowned English film star in an uncredited, and overlong, cameo. If you buy a ticket for this one, mon ami, le joke is on you.