Sunday, February 8, 2009


Former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Steve Martin behaves like a half-witted buffoon in “Cheaper by the Dozen” director Shawn Levy’s “The Pink Panther” (*1/2 stars out of ****),a juvenile, PG-rated prequel/remake of Blake Edwards’ seminal original with Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, and David Niven. Martin was a hoot on “Saturday Night Live” and he was hilarious in “The Jerk.” However, he isn’t as funny as either Peter Sellers, who created the accident-prone Inspector Jacques Clouseau, or even Alan Arkin, who stepped into Sellers’ shoes during the interim for Bud Yorkin’s “Inspector Clouseau.” Indeed, Martin isn’t even as good as the animated Inspector in the “Pink Panther” cartoons that David H. DePatie and Fritz Freleng created going back to 1965. Furthermore, even the worst Peter Sellers’ movie “Trail of the Pink Panther” is side-splitting stuff compared to this updated, deflated, kiddie farce. Martin plays the role so broadly that you have no sympathy for him. You don’t cringe when he makes a mistake. The physical gags, with the exception of when dainty but delectable Emily Mortimer winds up sitting on the shoulders with her pelvis in his face, are all laborious. Levy’s “Pink Panther” lacks the sophistication and wit of even the lesser Edwards’ “Pink Panther.” The gags are either recycled—such as the world globe that bounces across Paris creating mayhem—or just amateurish. Martin tries to imitate the Sellers’ pratfalls where the Inspector karate chops his way through imaginary interlopers. Meaning, he hacks away at curtains the shield nobody. Surprisingly, this leaden lampoon became an international box office hit and has now inspired a sequel.

The Len Blum and Steve Martin screenplay, based on the characters created by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin back in 1963, takes the storyline back in time to show us “the village idiot” that Clouseau was before Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline of “Wild Wild West”) summoned him from the provinces to Paris to recover the Pink Panther diamond. In the brisk whirl of vignettes, the uniformed Clouseau complete with a pencil-thin moustache, conducts himself like a colossal klutz, but the gags are flat. For example, the first gag has Clouseau and another gendarme careening down narrow streets with the siren going and Clouseau attaches a portable flashing light to the hood that flies off and strikes a woman on the sidewalk and knocks her down. Let me pause and laugh until I puke! The second gag has the gendarme behind the wheel pulling up to park at the scene of the crime, but he parks so close to the wall that Clouseau cannot get out. I’m still puking! Anyway, the gendarme pulls up farther so Clouseau can get out. Our hero finds himself at the scene of a traffic jam caused by an elderly man on a battery powered wheel chair that has stalled out because the wires have come loose from the post. Clouseau changes reconnects the wires to the wrong posts—they are clearly color coordinated--and the chair rockets off in reverse and the geezer slams into a sidewalk café. In the next series of vignettes, we see Clouseau barge through doorways to arrest the murderer of Pierre Fuquette. The first suspect is a basset hound, the second a baby in a crib and the third is . . . well . . . Pierre Fuquette himself! Clouseau quickly establishes that the case is closed. The only thing amusing about this is Pierre Fuquette’s risqué sounding name. The next scene shows a herd of goats chasing Clouseau through the streets. Is this comedy? No, it is contrivance that Shawn Levy’s “The Pink Panther” is hopelessly contrived.

Chief Inspector Dreyfus narrates these incidents from his office and observes, “I never thought I would have any use for him until that fateful day.” At this point, the plot kicks in at a soccer game where a celebrity coach, Yves Gluant (“The Transporter’s” Jason Statham in a cameo), appears before cheering crowds wearing the fabulous Pink Panther diamond ring on his hand and hustles into the stands to kiss his love Xania (African-American singing sensation Beyoncé Knowles) with whom he has had a high publicized romance. After the French team defeats the Chinese, Gluant is murdered. Somebody stabs him in his neck with a poison dart and he dies. When the authorities examine the body, they discover that the Pink Panther ring has disappeared! As it happens, Dreyfus is on the scene. He plans his strategy. He wants to find the Pink Panther diamond so that he can win the Medal of Honor that he has been nominated for seven times. Dreyfus tells his anonymous aide that he needs “an unimaginative, by-the-book, low-level, incompetent who will plod along, getting nowhere with the media watching his every move. And while he is getting nowhere, I will put together the finest team of investigators in France and we will hunt down the killers and retrieve the Pink Panther diamond and the Medal of Honor will be mine!”

Of course, the best laid plans are derailed when Clouseau arrives. He spears Dreyfus with his badge when they meet for the first time. Dreyfus lies to him and assures him that “a man of your talent merits greater responsibility than you have had up to this point.” Dreyfus assigned a second class detective Ponton (Jean Reno of “The Professional”) to keep him abreast of Clouseau’s every move. Poton becomes the equivalent of Peter Seller’s Asian houseboy Cato. Martin’s Clouseau trails Xania to New York City and gets into trouble at the airport and makes—not surprisingly—a fool of himself. In some ways, Martin's Clouseau is rather smarter than Sellers' Clouseau, but Martin has very few interesting scenes. The fight when Ponton wields his fists against the villains while Clouseau hacks frantically without hitting anybody is just too adolescent to be funny. The eleventh hour twists when Clouseau identifies the killer and recovers the diamond are virtually impossible to guess, so “The Pink Panther” cheats us. Again, Martin’s Clouseau lacks the inspired lunacy of Seller’s Clouseau and Shawn Levy cannot make this comedy of error look anything more than contrived. Kline isn’t half as funny as Herbert Lom’s Dreyfus. Clive Owen makes a cameo as a James Bond type British secret agent who designates himself as 006, but neither Levy nor his writers take advantage of his presence to beef up the action. The “hamburger” pronunciation scene is mildly funny. The cartoon title credits are fair, but this “Pink Panther” is more stink than pink.