'Pink' With Promise 

The new 'Panther' is mediocre, but far better than other post-Peter Sellers efforts

Steve Martin gives it a spirited go as Inspector Clouseau in the latest incarnation of The Pink Panther, an attempt to revitalize a franchise that began in 1963 with Peter Sellers in his most famous role and Blake Edwards at the helm. Now we get Martin and his Cheaper by the Dozen director, Shawn Levy, and the results are mixed at best.

Martin surely fares better than the likes of Roberto Benigni, Alan Arkin and Ted Wass, who all headlined the franchise as Clouseau or Clouseau's second cousin, or whatever. Yet the film around Martin is stiff and uninventive, leaving the gifted comedian adrift in flat directing and a lame script.

Filmed a couple of years ago and shuffled all over the calendar to many release dates, MGM settled for the dead zone that is February with decent results (the film brought in more than $20 million in its first weekend). Martin is funny indeed with his silly French accent, not aping Sellers but doing his own spin on the mangling of the English language. Honestly, his work here is not the abomination I thought it would be.

Martin beat out the likes of Chris Tucker, Kevin Spacey and Mike Meyers for the role. The comedian falls down with the best of them, and The Pink Panther gives him plenty of opportunity to do so. Instead of sporting the traditional brown Clouseau hat, Martin opts for a beret, which looks pretty silly. The goofy moustache is back, and he does spend part of the film in a trench coat, so some of an homage to Sellers is in place.

The useless plot has something to do with a world-renowned soccer star getting murdered in front of a huge stadium crowd, and the Pink Panther diamond disappearing off his hand. When shifty Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, so-so in a role once occupied by the great Herbert Lom) decides to use the case as a way to get himself a prestigious medal, he brings in Clouseau as a distraction while he works another angle. Dreyfus' treachery doesn't make much sense, so this facet of the film is quite dull and renders the great Clouseau nemesis of past Panther films a virtual nonentity.

There are some good moments, such as Clouseau getting accent lessons for a trip to New York (Martin has fun with the word "hamburger"). Martin and Jean Reno (as Clouseau's sidekick) are hysterical during an improvised dance number, dressed in pink camouflage and slapping their asses. While some of the gags are funny, they do little to move the movie along, giving the film a spotty vibe.

Beyoncé Knowles, who was great as Foxxy Cleopatra in the last Austin Powers film, is given nothing to do here other than a bland musical number. Her character is a suspect in the murder mystery, a mystery that feels like the most banal of Scooby Doo episodes. I fully expected the murderer to exclaim, "I would've gotten away for it if it weren't for those meddling kids!" during the finale.

If they should choose to continue the franchise, there's hope for better times. Allowing Dreyfus to become more insane (as he did in The Pink Panther Strikes Again) would allow the talented Kline to cut loose and provide a more substantial enemy and foil for Clouseau.

I didn't like The Pink Panther, but Martin and some of his co-performers show enough promise to provide some small hope for future installments. It's not a good movie, but it is an improvement over other post-Sellers Panther films, which were the equivalent of pissing on the great one's grave.

The Pink Panther
Rated NR

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