This attempt at resuscitating the old Blake Edwards-Peter Sellers franchise raises the question of whether a film can be said to at least fitfully succeed as a comedy if some of the gags are so bad that their very ineptitude is a cause for mirth — painful mirth, yes, but mirth all the same. Offhand, I’m going to say no.
The bulk of the reviews for The Pink Panther have been unkind, to say the least. The exceptions are generally of the specious variety, largely coming from the obvious studio shills who show up out of nowhere and have never posted on the Internet Movie Database except to praise this one film, and the equally obvious “quote whores” (reviewers who will endorse just about anything in hopes of being quoted in advertisements) on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site.
The bad reviews tend focus on the film’s marked inferiority to the original series, along with Steve Martin’s inferiority to Peter Sellers, Kevin Kline’s inferiority to Herbert Lom and director Shawn Levy’s inferiority to Blake Edwards. I wouldn’t question the veracity of any of these claims, but this new Pink Panther is quite capable of being a disaster all on its own, thank you very much. Still, this is a movie that just begs you to compare it to the original, because it’s entirely predicated on copying it.
Levy treats the story like a prequel to the 1963 Pink Panther — kind of like the way the Batman franchise keeps backing itself up and explaining (with variations) the origins of the Caped Crusader. The problem with this approach to Jacques Clouseau is multifold. With Batman, the idea is to go backwards so as to reinvent — or at least seriously remonkey — the myth. Here, backing up the story is simply a plot device to get Clouseau on the scene, and not a different Clouseau, but one as close to Sellers’ original as Steve Martin’s sub-Rich Little impression will allow.
Moreover, there’s no real origin: Clouseau is a full-blown idiot when we first meet him in a small French village. All that happens is Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) imports him to Paris in order to utilize Clouseau’s particular brand of imbecility to screw up a (not very interesting) murder investigation, thereby (in theory) allowing Dreyfus to step in and save the day at the last minute. (We won’t even stop to question how the white-haired, 60-year-old Martin can possibly be the origin of the then-38-year-old, dark-haired Sellers, or how this imitation prequel could deal with the theft of a completely different jewel also known as the Pink Panther.)
The pretense fails on so many levels that it’s … well, it’s not funny. For starters, Clouseau needs no origin — certainly not this contrivance. The original … no, the real Clouseau had managed to achieve inspector status through sheer dumb luck and the ever-popular Peter Principle that states that a person will rise to his or her level of incompetence. The real Clouseau is a force of nature — a complete bungler who, like a holy idiot, will somehow come out on top. Significantly, he never doubts himself — he’s not smart enough for self-realization. The new film gives us a Clouseau who gets about a reel of self-doubt in Martin’s current bid for feel-good family-comedian status. It falls flat.
Nearly everything in the film falls flat, in large part because it all tries too hard. There’s never any sense in the real Clouseau of Peter Sellers trying to be funny. Here there’s nothing but the spectacle of Martin at his “look at me, I’m being funny” worst in a film where the comedy has been reduced to mechanical slapstick, overlong variants on Clouseau’s fractured French and (can’t you guess?) a protracted flatulence gag.
In short, there was a very good reason this movie got pulled and relegated to the slagheap of February releases. Go rent the Edwards-Sellers Pink Panther or, better yet, A Shot in the Dark, and give this blatant pretender a pass. Rated PG for occasional crude and suggestive humor and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke