Having only seen one previous film in the series1993's fairly obscure "Son of the Pink Panther," directed by Blake Edwards and starring a then-unknown Roberto Benignithere were no expectations, ill feelings or preconceived notions present while walking into the theater showing the 2006 edition, simply entitled "The Pink Panther." In truth, my most familiar memory of the trademark title was watching the animated series as a child, which had little to do with the live-action feature films. My own ignorance of the characters and premise were just as well. While other early reviews fumed about the sacrilege of Steve Martin (2005's "Cheaper by the Dozen 2
") replacing Peter Sellers as bumbling investigator Jacques Clouseau, previously uninitiated viewers like myself have the advantage of judging this revamped version on its own terms and free of the urge to compare and contrast the two actors.
With that said, viewing "The Pink Panther" as a stand-alone film doesn't help matters much. A broad slapstick comedy just a few degrees away from being an all-out spoof, here is a ninety-minute movie containing two or three big laughs, another two or three small ones, and eighty surrounding minutes of lazy, misguided, laughless tripe. The director is Shawn Levy, who previously guided the wonderful Steve Martin to very nearly the worst film in the talented comedic performer's career (2003's "Cheaper by the Dozen
"), so red flags should have been sounding long before production began. Then again, Martin had a hand in the screenplay (co-writing with Len Blum), so he himself isn't really as innocent as one might believe.
When a famed soccer coach (Jason Statham) is murdered during a playoff game and his valuable Pink Panther ring is stolen, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) intentionally calls upon the most inept detective he can find to take the case: Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin). Confident that Clouseau won't be able to get far in the investigation, Dreyfus' secret intention is for Clouseau to draw in the media's attention until he can get a solid lead. Indeed, Clouseau is a klutz and a fool, leaving behind mayhem and destruction wherever he goes, but he is also gleefully unaware of these facts. With partner Gendarme Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno) by his side, Clouseau starts rounding up a list of possible suspects, including the victim's pop star girlfriend Xania (Beyonce Knowles), moving ever closer to the culprit(s).
As a crime mystery, "The Pink Panther" is strictly pedestrian, not once succeeding at involving the viewer's interest in the investigation. With such a boring story, that leaves the film's heavily comic side to save the day. Unfortunately, so many jokes fall astoundingly flatmost of them juvenile in the extreme and of the physical and bodily function varietythat when a genuinely sly moment squeaks through it is surprising enough as to cause whiplash. A running gag in which Ponton keeps finding Clouseau and cute-as-a-button coworker Nicole (Emily Mortimer) in precarious situations that he misreads as sexual is in at least one instance hilarious, while another scene having to do with the fine line of what actions constitute as sexual harassment is just as successful. Meanwhile, a few quirky double entendres that just barely make it past the PG-rating restraints induce some smiles. The rest is a dead zone of wasted character potential, poor plot construction and pacing, and an overall empty-headedness that goes far beyond the minimal intelligence level of Clouseau.
Steve Martin is undeniably having a blast in the role of unlikely French hero Jacques Clouseau, particularly when he is called upon to butcher the English language with his hopeless diction skills. Still, all one has to do is recall his recent sterling turn in 2005's "Shopgirl
" to recognize how often he chooses to work below his capabilities. Martin makes Clouseau a lovable doofus, not unlike Leslie Nielsen's Lieutenant Frank Drebin or the late Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell, and he shares some sweet chemistry with the effervescent, charming Emily Mortimer (2005's "Match Point
"), as love interest Nicole. The rest of the cast is glaringly squandered, particularly Beyonce Knowles (2003's "The Fighting Temptations
"), in what amounts to a glorified cameo as Xania, and Kristin Chenoweth (2005's "Bewitched
"), whose non-entity of a part as Cherie could have been portrayed by a set extra and not have made a bit of difference.
"The Pink Panther" isn't the big-budget disaster that the countless release date changes over the last year have signaled, but it is completely and inexorably a forgettable waste of time. Steve Martin can only carry so much of a production before other crucial details need to be taken into accountmost notably a solid scriptand it is on this account that things unravel almost immediately. On the whole, "The Pink Panther" feels antiquated and lame and frivolous, the type of film that exits the brain before it has hardly had time to enter. So much for small favors.