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The Pink Panther

Painfully Funny (Sometimes)

Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling, stumbling, and occasionally mumbling character created by writer/director Blake Edwards in the early 1960s and immortalized by the late, great comedic actor Peter Sellers in six entries of declining quality, is back, this time with Steve Martin in the lead role. Why Martin, who co-wrote the screenplay for The Pink Panther, would choose to step into the shoes of an iconic character like Inspector Clouseau, when comparisons with Sellers' performance are inevitable (and likely to be unfavorable), is a decision that's best explained by the target demographic for this remake/prequel, young adolescents and their parents (that and, presumably, Martin's ego).

After the murder of the coach of the French soccer team, Gluon (Jason Statham, in a dialogue-free cameo) and the theft of the famous Pink Panther diamond, the politically ambitious Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline), brings in Clouseau, a third-rate police officer from a small town, to Paris. Well aware that Clouseau's abilities as a detective fall short of Clouseau's self-confidence in his abilities, Dreyfus instantly promotes Clouseau to the rank of inspector and installs Clouseau as the lead investigator on the high-profile case. Dreyfus gives Clouseau a poker-faced, sleepy-eyed assistant and driver, Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno), sets him up in his own plush office and appoints him a secretary, Nicole (Emily Mortimer), to lend a hand as needed.

Clouseau and Ponton's investigation leads them first to Gluon's silky smooth American girlfriend, Xania (Beyoncé Knowles, playing herself, more or less), and from there, to Bizu (William Abadie), a disgruntled player, Yuri (Henry Czerny), the team's Russian-born trainer, and, more importantly, LeRoc (Roger Rees), Gluon's business partner. Gluon, it seems, made many enemies and few friends. Clouseau has nowhere to turn to until another body pops up, but even that fresh development leads Clouseau and Ponton into another cul-de-sac.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen) with competent anonymity (with the exception of several shots in New York City where the mid-day sun gleams off of Martin's head and white hair), The Pink Panther isn't, as some have suggested through a careful analysis of the trailer or television ads, painfully unfunny. At times, though, The Pink Panther is closer to painfully funny, as Inspector Clouseau wrecks havoc through a picture/postcard version of Paris and New York City. Even the simple act of walking can be catastrophic in Clouseau's world, not, of course, for the seemingly invulnerable Clouseau, who bounces back from one misadventure with his hair still neatly combed and his limbs unbroken, but for anyone unlucky enough to be near Clouseau when he moves.

With slapstick in practically every scene, The Pink Panther relies heavily on physical comedy as universal language, understandable by the young, middle-aged, and old alike. It should, since the verbal jokes are mostly limp, with the punchlines telegraphed minutes ahead of time (including one scene involving an English-language coach that goes on for too long). Alas, the physical comedy is equally forced and uninventive. There are a few minor exceptions, though, one involving an out-of-control globe, another involving a bathroom fiasco, and a terrific sight gag involving camo gear (the best by far). That's not enough, however, on which to hang an entire film. Martin's incessant mugging can be traced to the limitations found in his undernourished screenplay.

As far as unnecessary remake, sequels, or prequels go (take your pick), The Pink Panther is best described as superfluous. Or is it the other way around? Either way, it's hard to imagine anyone except Steve Martin's dwindling fanbase or children under ten (insert obligatory fart joke here) looking forward to giving The Pink Panther a view at their local multiplex. As for Martin, there's always the chance that he still has one or two (or, to be generous, three) solid comedic performances ahead of him assuming, of course, that he doesn't work from his own material again.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars