Appellate Judge James A. Stewart inspects the last of the original Pink Panther films.
"I knew a man once named Jacques. When he died ten years ago, I said 'Thank God there can never, never be another one like him. And then I met your son."—Police Commissioner Charles Dreyfuss
While Police Commissioner Charles Dreyfuss may have enjoyed the idea of a world without Inspector Jacques Clouseau—or Peter Sellers, who created the character in the original Pink Panther movie—Blake Edwards wasn't so thrilled with the idea. After all, The Pink Panther and its sequels had made him his name and his fortune.
Thus, Peter Sellers's death didn't stop the series. In the 1980s, we got Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther in Edwards's attempts to keep his series alive. In 1993, Italian comedian Robert Benigni (Life is Beautiful), whose American credits then included appearances in Jim Jarmusch movies, took on the role of Jacques Gambrelli, the long-lost son of Clouseau.
Facts of the Case
The movie opens with a kidnapping as Princess Yasmin (Debrah Farentino, Eureka), the half-American daughter of the king of Lubash, is taken from a yacht. Yasmin's no pushover—one of her attackers gets sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher before she's subdued. The ransom is $100 million—plus her father's abdication.
Jacques Gambrelli finds himself on the case by accident—literally. He's the bicycle cop on the scene when Commissioner Dreyfuss's car crashes into the van in which Zarba (Robert Davi, Licence to Kill) is transporting the drugged Yasmin. Gambrelli gets a good look at the kidnapped princess—since he's fallen in love with her at first sight. That makes him a target for the baddies, which Dreyfuss realizes when they try to run down Gambrelli on his bicycle. When Gambrelli says to Dreyfuss, "I am an officer of the 'lew,' " the commissioner is shocked—recalling the last man who uttered those words.
As Gambrelli pursues the investigation, Dreyfuss pursues romance with the young bumbler's mother (Claudia Cardinale, The Pink Panther). Can Gambrelli rescue the princess? Can Dreyfuss find love with the woman who gave the world Inspector Clouseau's son? Can Blake Edwards revive his famed comedy series without Peter Sellers?
Since Roberto Benigni is no stranger to visual comedy and slapstick, he takes to the responsibilities of being Peter Sellers's successor well. He combines set pieces such as Gambrelli walking across wet cement from his bike to the hospital and small doses of Clouseau's famed malaprops with a few touches of his own. Gambrelli turns out to be a romantic who sings off-key and loves poetry. Blake Edwards, who directed the film with his son Geoffrey, wisely reins Benigni in early in the film, giving us time to get used to the new guy before the farce spins out of control.
Thus Clouseau's son recalls the early Clouseau of The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark rather than the slapstick Clouseau of the later movies. The appearance of Claudia Cardinale (who appeared in the first movie but plays Maria, Clouseau's love interest from A Shot in the Dark) helps set this tone. Gambrelli's unceasingly chivalrous efforts to rescue Yasmin reflect Clouseau's efforts to clear the name of Maria, further highlighting the similarities. Herbert Lom, Claudia Cardinale, and Bert Kwouk (Cato) are on hand from earlier Pink Panther movies, but their contributions are subdued enough that Benigni gets a chance to show what he can do.
A few sharp lines, as when Maria speaks of her former lover Clouseau—"He makes love the way he plays the violin"—give the movie a hint of sex farce as well, fitting since the original movie saw Clouseau being cuckolded by a notorious thief.
On the other hand, a few of the scenes that draw connections to the original movies have a reunion TV-movie feeling to them. Also, the kidnapping plot leads to some set action pieces right out of 1970s detective shows, except for Benigni's idiosyncratic touches. Not bad, but you can see action scenes like this for free in a number of Monk episodes. These weaknesses kept the film from reaching the heights of the original, though it still has quite a few entertaining moments.
I saw no problems with the transfer or the sound, but I did object to the lack of extras. The way the trailer used the cartoon Pink Panther to link back to the original movies might be interesting to film buffs, but commentary on how Blake Edwards and his son shaped Clouseau's son would have been good.
I'll also give special notice to the movie's opening, which combines cartoons with live action. Bobby McFerrin's scat singing of the Pink Panther theme is welcome, as is the new cartoon Inspector, who resembles Benigni instead of an egg with a face and limbs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Son of the Pink Panther clearly hints at sequel possibilities throughout, but no sequel materialized. Obviously, the box office didn't live up to Blake Edwards's hopes. While this wasn't a bad movie, its familiarity may have bred contempt from moviegoers back in 1993.
Son of the Pink Panther doesn't reach the classic heights of Peter Sellers's Clouseau movies, but Roberto Benigni makes it a light, fun movie that wasn't a bad way to spend a dull summer night. Newcomers to the series will want to go back to the originals first, but if you've seen everything Sellers already, this one makes a decent buy.
Not guilty of being a "beumb."
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