Steve Martin has had a mixed year at the movies. First, the critically acclaimed "Shop Girl", then the successful, but dreadful "Cheaper by the Dozen 2", and now the mixed bag that is "The Pink Panther".
Detective Clouseau (Steve Martin), a very inept cop in the French countryside, is summoned to Paris by Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (Kevin Kline). Dreyfuss wants Clouseau to distract the public, leading a fake investigation into the death of Yves Glouant (Jason Statham), the coach of the French soccer team. While Clouseau follows his leads, Dreyfuss will secretly lead the real investigation, find the killer, and receive the glory, the accolades and his long-awaited Medal of Honor. Dreyfuss pairs Clouseau with Ponton (Jean Reno) and they soon begin to investigate the murder of the star athlete, and the disappearance of the Pink Panther Diamond. Some of the suspects include Xania (Beyonce Knowles), international recording superstar (that's convenient!), Yuri (Henry Czerny), the Russian born trainer of the French team and many others.
"The Pink Panther", co-written by Steve Martin and directed by Shawn Levy, is a mixed-bag. Some of the set pieces are amusing, but the film is a pale comparison to the classic on which it is based.
This new "Panther" isn't really based on the original film starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner and many others. Nor is it based on any of the sequels starring Peter Sellers. What it is based on is the character of Inspector Clouseau, as played so brilliantly by the late, great Peter Sellers. Why do filmmakers believe they can improve upon original works of genius? This misconception has lead to remakes of Hitchcock's "Psycho", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and many others. These films are classics for a reason. Everyone involved in the film was firing on all cylinders, everything clicked and the film was great. You can't improve upon it. Stop trying and subjecting the public to endless hours of bad films. There are thousands of films that would be more suitable for updates, remakes, etc. Films that were good, but are maybe fading into our memories. Or films with an interesting premise but mediocre performances by people who would became memorable stars. Try remaking more of those.
Because Martin and Levy aren't really remaking one of the films, this becomes more of an update or a reimagining. I read that this film is supposed to be a prequel to Peter Sellers' entries, but I don't see how that is possible when this story takes place in present day. Because Martin is basically reconceiving one of the most memorable comedic characters ever created, he has large shoes to fill. Martin is a funny guy and he manages to create some amusing sequences here, but the character never really seems fluid for him. He doesn't seem like he inhibits the life of this character. Everything seemed so effortless for Sellers. Martin is more successful in portraying Clouseau's physical bumbling than he is with the difficult to understand accent.
Some of the physical humor is lifted directly from some of the original "Panther" films; a sequence in Xania's bathroom is borrowed from one of the sequels. Martin's Clouseau attempts to keep mentally sharp, by sporadically attacking people. However, Sellers' Clouseau confined this action to his willing servant, providing Blake Edwards and Sellers the opportunity to create more and more elaborately choreographed situations. In Martin's case, he decides to enlist the willing Ponton for this purpose, who quickly ends all of these attempts. Because the bits are so quick, they don't have time to build up to anything. Clouseau also bumbles his way through many interrogations, while Ponton looks on helplessly. There is one particularly memorable little bit, late in the film, Clouseau and Ponton don disguises to infiltrate a party. The disguises are cute but pale in comparison to the elaborate costumes Seller wore. But Martin always seems a little at ease playing the bumbling detective. It doesn't seem natural for him and it did seem entirely natural for Sellers.
Martin tries to assay the memorable linguistic problems Sellers gave Clouseau. While Sellers always seemed to be two or three degrees from normal, we always could get a sense of what he was trying to say; "room" became "rhuum". Martin takes the joke 20 degrees from the actual word and his Clouseau seems to be speaking a different language altogether. His attempts to say the word "hamburger" are amusing, but some of the variations Martin tries are so off the mark, it seems like he is making a joke of a joke, rather than trying something new or trying to be respectful of the original.
Kevin Kline's Chief Inspector Dreyfuss is amusing in a low key way. We get the sense he might eventually come close to Herbert Lom's slow burn as the original Dreyfuss; there are definitely hints the character may eventually go crazy, as Lom's character did in one of the sequels.
Jean Reno and Beyonce Knowles are pretty forgettable. Knowles is certainly beautiful and does an adequate job with her straight lines, but imagine how memorable the role might have been with a true comedian in the role. The finale, involving a performance from Xania, is entirely too calculated to provide an opportunity for Beyonce to sing and for the inevitable music video to play on MTV. Because the situation is so phony it is of no interest. If it appeared to be an organic moment in the film's story, it would make more sense and appear more natural.
Emily Mortimer pops up as Clouseau's new secretary, Nicole. A slightly amusing character providing the actress with an unusual comedic turn. Henry Czerny and Kristin Chenoweth pop up in roles that are almost instantly forgettable.
It's unfortunate that Martin is squandering his comedic talents on films like "Cheaper by the Dozen" and forgettable remakes like "The Pink Panther". Martin is a gifted comedic talent and should stick to the more interesting, thoughtful films like "Roxanne" and "Shopgirl". When he makes a film like "The Pink Panther", he is really dumbing down his humor. Also, his former core audience still remembers the classic portrayal of the same character by Peter Sellers. Perhaps, the filmmakers felt that the film would appeal to children, and many parents certainly took their kids to the screening I attended. I don't understand why parents, who are familiar with the better, funnier originals, wouldn't expose their kids to these films instead of this weak remake. Perhaps all of the publicity surrounding this new film is drawing children to it, his new core audience. The physical humor certainly translates into silly fun, worthy of the attention of an eight year old. A dumb eight year old. How much richer their lives would be after watching the original at work.
If you have 90 minutes to kill, when the DVD is available, give it a try. But don't waste your hard earned money for a bargain matinee.