The Pink Panther (2006) / Comedy-Mystery

MPAA Rated: PG for some innuendo, mild crude humor and mild language
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, Beyonce Knowles, Emily Mortimer, Henry Czrerny, Jason Statham, Clive Owen
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Len Blum, Steve Martin

Review published February 16, 2006

It's been proven time and again -- without Peter Sellers, the Pink Panther movies are hardly worth watching.  Steve Martin's (Shopgirl, Cheaper by the Dozen) modern take will do little to change anyone's mind about that, but perhaps for a younger, less familiar audience, it might actually merit some interest.  In truth, the script, co-written by Martin himself, is surprisingly witty, and despite the obligatory slapstick forays, it never proves to be too crass for adult audiences.  If there were one thing I could change, however, it would be in Martin's casting as Inspector Clouseau.  Martin is a funny man, and he does give the role his all to be sure, but he never really owns it the way Sellers did.    True, these are big, perhaps impossible, shoes to fill, but still, the level of discomfort apparent when Martin tries them on for size will make longtime fans of the series uncomfortable as well.

Although technically a remake, The Pink Panther is more of an in-name-only one.  It's more of a complete overhaul of the original 1963 film, with only series staples to bear resemblance to the movies that came before.  Like the original film, the "Pink Panther" is a large and invaluable diamond, here owned by soccer megastar Yves Gluant (Statham, Transporter 2), who is killed by a poison dart in front of thousands of screaming fans at his final game.  With such a high-profile case, Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (Kline, The Emperor's Club) hatches a plan to make himself famous; he enlists the aid of the department's most inept bumbler, Clouseau, in order so that he might take over and become a national hero once the investigation is seen as botched.  Bumble he does, but sometimes he bumbles his way to success, although the culprit seems to be resourceful and elusive enough to stay out of Clouseau's grasp until the end.

Despite my protests regarding Martin's casting, I must admit that he is so bad in the role, it actually makes you like him more.  Like seeing a good friend singing poorly at karaoke night, you know they have no business being there, and yet, you respect the effort to entertain, however shrill the performance may be.  Now sixty years old, Martin still has a knack for broad physical humor, and a timing that serves him well during the movie's many instances of over-the-top slapstick.  Regardless of the outcome, I'll give him a gold star for a valiant effort.

Luckily, Martin is surrounded by a nice supporting cast, with Kline almost outdoing Martin for the least convincing French accent in the film,  Kline has played Frenchmen before, most notably in the romantic comedy, French Kiss, although he seems to have lost his ear somewhat for the inflections.  The best French accent (not saying much here), at least one by someone that isn't Jean Reno, comes from Brit, Emily Mortimer (Match Point, Formula 51), who does a fantastic job as Clouseau's girl Friday of sorts, Nicole.  Reno (Hotel Rwanda, Rollerball) is ingratiating as Clouseau's faithful partner, Ponton, and Beyonce Knowles (The Fighting Temptations, Goldmember)  is radiant as the femme fatale, Xania.  Knowles also gets to sing her hit song, "Check On It", during the course of the film, perhaps the only lasting thing to emerge from the movie itself.

In summation, while it's a far cry from the brilliance of some of the Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards efforts, The Pink Panther may distinguish itself as an amiable release for families, with jokes aimed at kids and adults in equal measure.  However, while the original Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark have gone on to be considered comedy classics, this 2006 version is little more than sporadically amusing, but highly disposable fare.

-- Followed by The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo