The Pink Panther (2006)

The Pink Panther

Overall Rating: (2)

James Kendrick

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Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Len Blum and Steve Martin (story by Len Blum and Michael Saltzman, based on the Pink Panther movies of Blake Edwards)
Stars: Steve Martin (Inspector Jacques Clouseau), Kevin Kline (Chief Inspector Dreyfus), Beyoncé Knowles (Xania), Jean Reno (Gendarme Gilbert Ponton), Emily Mortimer (Nicole), Henry Czerny (Yuri), William Abadie (Bizu), Scott Adkins (Jacquard), Dexter Bell (Terry Ahkee-Sauce)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2006
Country: U.S.
The Pink Panther
The Pink PantherThere’s no exact formula or science to explain this particular cinematic phenomenon, but it’s hard to deny that certain recurring movie characters can sustain revolving actors playing the role, while there are others that are so deeply and fundamentally associated with a particular actor or actress that anyone else playing the part, regardless of talent or willpower, is doomed to failure. James Bond is a good example of the former category; the character has thrived despite being played by five different actors (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan), with a sixth (Daniel Craig) debuting next year.

On the other hand, Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling hero of the Pink Panther series, belongs heart and soul to Peter Sellers. This is not to say that other actors haven’t tried to fill the role. Alan Arkin made a valiant effort in 1968’s Inspector Clouseau, which was directed by Bud Yorkin. Even Blake Edwards, who directed Sellers in five Pink Panther films, tried to replace him twice (albeit under the guise of different, related characters), first with Ted Wass in Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) and then with Roberto Benigni 10 years later in Son of the Pink Panther (1993). Neither one worked.

That, however, hasn’t stopped Steve Martin, a gifted comedian in his own right, from trying to fill Sellers’ shoes as the relentlessly overconfident and incompetent French sleuth, and not surprisingly he meets a similar fate. It’s not that Martin’s performance is bad. Quite on the contrary, he deftly applies his skills at bumbling physical comedy and a lisping, tongue-tangling French accent to frequently hilarious ends, but he always falls short of the mark left by Sellers.

Unfortunately, Martin’s valiant performance, however hamstrung by Sellers’ ghost, is mired in a silly, inane plot that keeps the movie firmly grounded. In an overworked opening sequence, a famous French soccer coach is killed on the field after a huge game between France and China, and the enormous Pink Panther diamond, which he was wearing on his hand at the time, disappears. For reasons that really don’t make any sense at all, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, with an accent that strangely morphs between French to British) calls in Clouseau to head up the investigation. His idea is that Clouseau, being a known incompetent, will bumble around in the public eye and get nowhere, meanwhile Dreyfus will assemble a crack team of investigators to solve the case behind the scenes, thus ensuring that he will win the country’s coveted Medal of Honor.

Clouseau is paired with Ponton (Jean Reno), another police detective whose primary goal is to keep tabs on him, but of course is ultimately won over by Clouseau’s goofy determinism (Reno’s deadpan straight-man routine is arguably the film’s best asset). The main suspect in the case is the soccer coach’s girlfriend, Xania, an international pop star played in a bit of distracting stunt casting by international pop star Beyoncé Knowles (a scene near the end essentially turns the movie into a Beyoncé music video and smacks of badly integrated opportunism).

Director Shawn Levy, who worked with Martin previously on Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), remains mostly unobtrusive and allows Martin (who cowrote the script) to run the show. The film includes some genuinely funny daisy-chain-of-disaster set pieces, particularly Clouseau’s destruction of a Waldorf Astoria bathroom while attempting to retrieve a Viagra pill that fell down the drain and a scene in which he spins a giant globe that promptly pops off its mount and rolls away, causing serious mayhem in its wake, most hilariously at an unexpected moment later in the story. Even with such moments, though, the whole enterprise is really little more than a lot of effort wasted on attempting to revive a film series that was better left alone.

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