Judge Brett Cullum was attacked without warning by a Peter Sellers impersonator who looked suspiciously like Steve Martin.
Chief Inspector Dreyfus: He's very easy to spot. He's got white hair, a thin mustache…Brimming with confidence, and completely lost.
Remakes are nothing new to Hollywood, and they have filled studio slates since the dawn of moviemaking. Seems nothing exists in the world of celluloid that can not become a target of a reimagining or an update. So it came as no surprise 1964's The Pink Panther would get new millennium treatment, but who could replace Peter Sellers as Clouseau or Blake Edwards as the director? Comedy legend turned family film star Steve Martin (The Jerk) was tapped for the bumbling detective, and directorial honors were bestowed on Shawn Levy who had recently helmed Martin's treatment of Cheaper by the Dozen 2. The news of the project was greeted with a certain degree of enthusiasm, but then an original opening date was missed and rumors of trouble began. Could the film be a new start for Clouseau, or simply another in the long line of troubling sequels for the series?
Facts of the Case
The story is loosely based on the original premise of the series, and gives us the genesis of how the bumbling detective started out on his illustrious career. Clouseau is called in from the field as a traditional policeman to investigate a case where a soccer coach has been murdered while wearing the famous gem known as the Pink Panther diamond. He's not meant to solve the case, but throw off the media from the real investigation which Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda) is leading. Yet in the world of French sleuthing, Clouseau will always find a way to triumph.
Steve Martin does something smart by making Inspector Clouseau bend to his persona rather than trying simply to do an impersonation of the great Peter Sellers. Nobody could ever hope to top or repeat the magic of Sellers starring in a Blake Edwards Panther vehicle, and it's nice to see Martin pay homage without doing a slavish job of trying to capture that lightning in a bottle. The Pink Panther is truly a Steve Martin movie as much as it belongs to any director, since he co-wrote the script and had tons of input on gags and how to shoot the film. Steve relies on physical comedy for the most part, and a funny French accent seems to do the rest. He makes the character visibly a touch smarter than what past history has afforded (though I always suspected Sellers was hiding the man's smarts under his quirks). It's a lighter sell than Sellers, and it seems more innocently informed and wholesome.
Cameos and supporting roles are the reason to keep your eyes peeled throughout the entire running time of the feature. Jean Reno (who's made a habit of remakes like Rollerball) oddly fulfills the Kato role by being a French officer assigned to accompany Clouseau. At least he sports a bona fide French accent amidst all the badly executed ones for comedy. Word on the street was Jackie Chan turned down an offer to reprise the role made famous by Burt Kwouk in the original series. Reno actually makes a good foil for Martin, and it works well in the new context. Beyonce Knowles (who is featured as a singing diva in Dreamgirls) stretches her acting ability by transforming herself in to the role of a global pop star with killer pipes and looks. Actually it's a smart move to let Beyonce just be Beyonce, and it works fine for what it is. Clive Owen (Sin City) spoofs James Bond in an uncredited appearance as 006. Jason Statham (The Transporter) makes a quick cameo as the murder victim.
The DVD presentation is great. Billed as a special edition, we certainly get a lot of extras to keep fans of the film excited. There are eleven deleted scenes with Levy commenting over them to explain why they were excised. There are two chances to check out Beyonce with her single from the soundtrack "Check On It" as well as an extended version of her production number in the film "A Woman Like Me." The first is typical hip hop light, but the second is a grand song that would be home in a James Bond epic. There is an alternate animated sequence which features a CGI 3-D Pink Panther sequence accompanied by Mancini's famous signature theme. You get a documentary of the making of the film, as well as featurettes on production elements. There is a feature length commentary by director Shawn Levy. Visual presentation is strong with vibrant colors and no artifact issues. The surround sound field is used minimally, but is clear enough in the three primary speakers to emphasize your enjoyment of the movie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So what happened to the movie, and the infamous missed opening? Sony acquired this film through a studio purchase, and once it hit their slate the project was changed a bit. Reshoots were demanded, and a more family friendly approach was recommended. Perhaps the film could have been sexier or darker, but we will never truly know. Probably it was the right move considering Steve Martin was using so much slapstick, The Pink Panther would appeal more to a family driven audience. Therein lies my biggest complaint with the movie in this updated incarnation.
The Pink Panther series with Sellers and Edwards was an adult comedy which merely had broad strokes of slapstick and schtick hung on black comedy and innuendo. Sellers often said he lost himself in a character, and Clouseau was a signature role. Unlike Martin and Kevin Kline, Peter Sellers and costar Herbert Lom made us believe in both Clouseau and Chief Inspector Dreyfus. They were real, and that made the comedy much more compelling. In this 2006 model we feel both leads are acting and putting on a funny accent. It doesn't have the edge or dangerous feel of the originals. By pushing the film towards family fare this new Pink Panther misses the trademark of the original which was patently adult and took the comedy seriously.
This new The Pink Panther easily eclipses the bad memories of feeble attempts to continue the franchise after the passing of its original lead (Curse of the Pink Panther and Son of the Pink Panther weren't even charming), yet it can't hold a candle to what Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers gave us decades ago. What the new Steve Martin vehicle offers is a family friendly retelling of a familiar story without depth or pathos. It's fine to pass the time, and it certainly is a handsome production with smile inducing physical comedy and funny accents. It works well in some moments, but it still feels like a cubic zircona when compared to the hard diamond of the originals. It can pass as enjoyable fluff, and it certainly has gotten royal treatment on DVD.
Guilty of being too tame to be anything more than a capable popcorn comedy, The Pink Panther never offends nor intrigues. It fits easily in to the new work of Steve Martin as a family friendly icon. You could do worse, but one look at A Shot in the Dark and you know better.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Shawn Levy
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