Pink Panther, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There are only two reasons to see The Pink Panther, and neither has anything to do with Steve Martin or his bastardization of Inspector Clouseau. The first is the opening credits cartoon - no matter how bad the movie, at least the title character, playing practical jokes to the tune of Henry Mancini's unforgettable theme, doesn't disappoint. But it's a sad thing when the best part of the movie comes before the movie starts. Then there's an opportunity for viewers to see Clive Owen as James Bond - sort-of. In the lone semi-inspired bit, Owen appears as a dapper British secret agent with plenty of gadgets and a penchant for derring-do. (The Pink Panther, which has been sitting on shelves for a while awaiting its prime February release date, was filmed at time when Owen was considered to be the front-runner to replace Pierce Brosnan. Had that happened, this movie would have scored a coup. Since it didn't, this becomes an odd footnote.)

This is the fifth Pink Panther movie without a (living) Peter Sellers. All but one, 1968's Inspector Clouseau (with Alan Arkin), had the good sense not to re-cast the bumbling French inspector (the Roger Moore cameo in The Curse of the Pink Panther excepted). Sellers isn't just synonymous with Inspector Clouseau. He is Inspector Clouseau. You can re-cast a James Bond or a Doctor Who or a Superman, but you can't re-cast a part in which the actor and the character have fused. Clouseau died in 1980 with Peter Sellers, but filmmakers, including series creator Blake Edwards, haven't realized it. Maybe if no one sees this version of The Pink Panther, someone will get the message.

Frankly, with the possible exception of A Shot in the Dark, the movies aren't very good. Their chief selling point was Sellers as Clouseau. Even amidst the worst scripts, he was funny. Steve Martin, despite being a gifted comedian in his own right, reminds us what we're missing as we watch him fly to the brink of desperation trying to channel Sellers. And it doesn't work. We spend 90 minutes wondering when the impostor is going to remove his mask and reveal the real Clouseau. The absence of any of the other Pink Panther regulars deepens the hollowness. (Why no cameo for Herbert Lom or Burt Kwouk? One doubts they would have refused had it been offered.) Martin is miscast (as would anyone else be), and so is Kevin Kline. His version of Dreyfus is bland - a word no one ever would have used to describe Lom's interpretation of the character. Jean Reno does an okay job playing Clouseau's assistant (and even gets to copy a move or two from the absent Cato). The less said about Beyoncé, the better. She's gorgeous, and has a great voice, but any acting skills she may possess are absent here. Here cleavage leaves a deeper impression than her performance.

The plot is dumb enough that it could have been written for one of the Sellers movies. The coach of the French national soccer team (Jason Statham in a cameo) lies dead on the field, a poison dart in his neck and his gaudy ring - which contains the Pink Panther diamond - missing. Chief Inspector Dreyfus, in a bid to inflate his own importance and popularity, decides to import the most incompetent police officer he can find, promote him to inspector, and let him bungle the investigation. Then, when all is nearly lost, Dreyfus can ride to the rescue, arrest the miscreant, and bask in glory. His choice for the patsy is Clouseau, but the newly minted Inspector fools everyone, including perhaps himself, by solving the crime.

The movie mostly consists of pratfalls and verbal mangling. The bad French accent may have been funny 40 years ago, but the last drops of humor have long since been wrung out of it. So we get stuff like the unfunny "hamburger" bit that drags on for so long that one is sure the End Times have come and gone in the meantime. It's like a bad Saturday Night Live skit. Lackluster director Shawn Levy (Cheaper By the Dozen - another Steve Martin retread) pilfers several of the gags from earlier Pink Panther movies, but the old stand-bys are no longer funny. Nor is the new stuff, which includes fart jokes and a bit of stupidity featuring Viagra.

The Pink Panther is supposed to use humor to uplift. Instead, I departed this movie feeling depressed. Lifeless comedies can suck the energy out of a viewer, especially when they sully the image of an cinematic icon. The film is bad enough in its own right that it won't work even for those who don't know who Peter Sellers is - it will seem disposable and silly, with too many jokes that don't work. But for those who recall Sellers and the role he made famous, "travesty" seems to be the right descriptor.

Pink Panther, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2006-02-10
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1