Dir: Shawn Levy, 2006, US, 95 mins
Cast: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, Beyonce Knowles, Emily Mortimer
Review by Lorna Allen
Hollywood’s calculating and greedy penchant for remakes and mistakes continues in this depressing and soul-destroying remake of the 1964 cult comedy classic by director Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Victor/Victoria) and the gifted but difficult Goon Show comedian Peter Sellars (Dr. Strangelove).
Steve Martin (Bringing Down the House) is Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling accident prone provincial gendarme turned detective who must solve the murder of the French football manager Yves Gluant (Jason Stratham) and relocate the world famous ‘Pink Panther’ – a huge tacky pink diamond stolen from his pinky. Beyonce Knowles - in the femme fatale role occupied by in the past by actresses of significantly more mystique Claudia Cardinale and Dyan Cannon plays – wait for it –international pop star Xania (what a stretch!) who also happens to be the stiff’s fiancé and number one suspect in his murder. Who dunnit? Was it the new manager? Was it the jealous ex? Was it Xania? Who knows? Who cares! Kevin Kline occupies the role of Chief Inspector Dreyfus determined blame to the Chinese for the murder and snag the Medal of Honour and thinks Clouseau’s misadventures will deflect media attention from his office until he can solve the crime. Kline clearly struggles with the difficulty of adopting a French accent - alternating between English and South African along the way.
A touch (although very slight) of class is brought to the film in the form of Emily Mortimer as Clouseau’s mini mouse pitched love interest Nicole. Clive Owen curiously pops up as secret agent 006 Boswell - an in-joke which sees Clouseau poke fun at the one time top favourite to fill Pierce Brosnan’s shoes ‘’You are one short of the big time’’. Jean Reno belittles himself and his resume (Leon and the upcoming Da Vinci Code) by playing Ponton - Clouseau’s side-kick and straight man in a new role which replaces the previous and now politically incorrect Kato the Asian houseboy from the original.
The 1964 version garnered an adoring and loyal audience which encouraged a string on sequels – The Return of The Pink Panther (1974), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (78) and Trail of The Pink Panther (1982), made posthumously after Sellar’s tragic demise in 1980 using old footage. Seems like the money spinners in Tinseltown, like Edwards, were unable to give up the ghost and they churned out a number of clangers including Son of The Pink Panther. Now the unlikely (and highly unadvised) collaboration of director Shaun Levy (Cheaper By The Dozen, Just Married), a man who as yet has demonstrated no grasp of humour and a lack of Edward’s sharp wit, and the ‘zany’ once brilliant Steve Martin (Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bringing Down The House and Cheaper by The Dozen) attempts to carry the torch - with pitiful and excruciatingly embarrassing consequences.
Following in the ill fated footsteps of Alan Arkin, Red Wass and Roberto Benigni Martin, whose career has been on a downward spiral in recent years, attempts to recreate the magic created by the formidable genius of Sellars. Not personally a big fan of slapstick and The Pink Panther films in general, I can at least acknowledge the skill with which Sellars inhabited the bumbling Clousesu and the touching vulnerability he invested in the character which came to personify his long and varied career.
No such sensitivity is wasted on this uninspired and vulgar set piece which relies on unsophisticated pratfalls, clichés and rudimentary slapstick with no real semblance of a plot linking each predictable gag. Some films, no matter how dreadful, can at least start off well and then flounder and run out of steam – often premised on one joke – no such luck in this case – the film starts off just as it means to go on. One painful, drawn out scene in particular features Clouseau laboriously attempting to parallel park his teeny tiny car in between two cars with a gap the width of the Hoover Dam between them and still managing to dent both fenders (viewers will be jealous to note that continuity was sleeping during this scene). Didn’t we already have a laugh at the funny little continental car in Just Married Mr. Levy? In fact the beret wearing French are the source of most of the humour in this film – whether getting ploughed down by Tour de France competitors or having their funny accents and customs mocked.
Essentially the film's biggest misfire is Martin’s ‘‘re-imagining’' of the catastrophic klutz Clouseau. An audience can’t root for the hero if he is essentially irritating and unlovable and therein is the flaw (but by no means the only one). Sellars imbued Clouseau with a certain degree of self-awareness at his awkwardness and ineptness. He caused havoc wherever he went, predictable physical humour was the name of the game, but what made his Clouseau an endearing figure was that he was painfully aware and mortified by the mass destruction he left in his wake but was stubbornly determined not to reveal it. Essentially an insecure and human character, an audience could identify with him and his pig-headedness and forced feigned unflappability. Martin doesn’t seem to have grasped this fact and plays his Clouseau as a simpleton – totally and blissfully unaware of the destruction he leaves behind, or else unconcerned by it. Either way he is not a flawed yet engaging character but merely a one dimensional buffoon who fails to elicit any deeper emotions than irritation and anger.
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