THE PINK PANTHER (2006)
Starring Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Béyoncé Knowles, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Henry Czerny, Jason Stratham, Roger Rees, Phillip Goodwin and Kristin Chenowith.
Screenplay by Len Blum and Steve Martin.
Directed by Shawn Levy.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. 93 minutes. Rated PG.
The role of Inspector Clouseau (or variations of…) from The Pink Panther movies has been played by quite a few actors over the years. The high water mark is of course Peter Sellers, who portrayed the character in five movies from the sixties and seventies – six if you count the 1982 Trail of the Pink Panther which came out two years after Sellers’ death, made up of outtakes from the earlier films.
Alan Arkin took on the character in one 60s film called Inspector Clouseau. Future Oscar-winning Italian comedian Roberto Begnini was The Son of the Pink Panther. Anyone remember sitcom actor Ted Wass of Soap and Blossom in The Curse of the Pink Panther? I didn’t think so. And did you realize that in the same movie, an uncredited Roger Moore (aka James Bond) also took on the gendarme’s fedora? Of course, you didn’t.
So, right off the bat, Steve Martin is the second most talented person to play the lead in a Pink Panther movieand he actually does very well with the character – at least as well as you possibly could at this point in history. There are some legitimate and significant laughs in this film.
That doesn’t make the movie any less pointless to remake.
Well, it’s not exactly a remake. Actually it’s being sold as a prequel set in the present day, though unless the good Inspector found a time machine, the whole idea of a prequel is that it is supposed to have happened before the other stories.
There is not much saying why this choice was made. There are a few nods at modern life – Clouseau is hooked on the internet, takes viagra and drives a Smart (a tiny European automobile which looks a lot more funny to us Americans than the Parisians in the film who undoubtedly see them all the time.) Otherwise, though, the film is as old-fashioned as can be.
Particularly the escalating slapstick set pieces in which Clouseau just keeps upping the mayhem while trying to fix his mistakes – slapstick is a rather lost art for a reason – what can be funny can also be irretrievably quaint and dated looking. The Pink Panther is constantly straddling that fine line. The fact that the film does offer some real laughs is undoubtedly due to Martin’s contribution to the screenplay.
However, the whole vehicle is tied to a style that doesn’t work in the current movie climate and in the end wastes an extremely talented cast. Particularly stranded is the normally wonderful Kevin Kline in the role of Clouseau’s nemesis Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Kline is stuck on slow burn. He is never allowed to totally let loose as Herbert Lom had done in the role years ago. Also, Kline’s French voice is oddly off – we know he can play Gallic convincingly, he had a terrific accent in the 1993 romantic comedy French Kiss with Meg Ryan.
In fact, most of the French accents here are a little off and put on by non-French actors; Americans Martin, Kline and Kristin Chenowith and Brit Emily Mortimer. Only Jean Reno is actually French and only Martin’s accent totally works – and that is specifically because he is not doing so much a French accent as a Clouseau accent. Part of the joke of the role is that the Inspector’s accent is so thick that he is nearly incomprehensible. Granted, the non-French actors are a running problem with these films. Sellers and Herbert Lom (who played Dreyfus in most of the previous films) were not French either, after all.
Even though she isn’t even bothering to do a fake accent, the romantic lead as played by singer Béyoncé Knowles is a real problem. As an actress, Béyoncé is an okay pop star. She looks good. She can sort of pull off smoldering. But she really has no acting chops to talk of – though in her defense, Meryl Streep couldn’t make this nothing role seem accomplished.
As far as Martin, I’m sure he got paid a lot of money for this movie and he was able to live in Paris while filming, so it is hard to totally begrudge him. If this is the price we have to pay to get him to be able to make more personal and intelligent films like Shopgirl, Roxanne, LA Story and Bowfinger; at least he put in a lot more effort than most of his other remakes or sell-out films like Cheaper By the Dozen, Sgt. Bilko, The Out-of-Towners and Bringing Down the House. (2/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 25, 2006.