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(2006) (Steve Martin, Kevin Kline) (PG)

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Comedy: A bumbling French inspector is assigned to solve a murder and retrieve a valuable diamond known as the Pink Panther.
French soccer coach Yves Gluant (JASON STATHAM) has been murdered on the field following a big victory, and his enormous diamond -- known as the Pink Panther -- has been stolen. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (KEVIN KLINE) believes that if he solves the case, he might just finally win the Medal of Honor after many previous nominations. But he needs someone incompetent to distract the press so that he can get the job done.

Accordingly, he promotes bumpkin Jacques Clouseau (STEVE MARTIN) to Inspector status, assigning Gilbert Ponton (JEAN RENO) as his partner who will report back to Dreyfus on Clouseau's whereabouts and activities. With the lovely Nicole (EMILY MORTIMER) serving as his secretary, the bumbling Clouseau -- who's ignorant about his real role or overzealous detective work -- sets out to solve the crime.

Among his suspects is Gluant's girlfriend, international recording star Xania (BEYONCÉ KNOWLES); her former boyfriend and soccer player Bizu (WILLIAM ABADIE); the team trainer Yuri (HENRY CZERNY); and casino operator Larocque (ROGER REES). As he begins investigating them, he inadvertently causes various comedic complications for Dreyfus and others.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
By now, you've probably heard that Steve Martin is appearing in yet another installment of the venerable "Pink Panther" movie series. Before the purists out there get themselves all wrapped up in a knot, one must remember that while certain actors might be strongly associated with certain roles, no one has a stranglehold on any given part. Just ask those who've played Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and other notable cinematic characters, especially those who were first in line.

That said, when one mentions who was best at playing Jacques Clouseau, there isn't likely to be the sort of argument pitting Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore vs. Pierce Brosnan as 007. For most everyone, the thought of Alan Arkin, Roberto Benigni or Ted Wass as the bumbling French inspector are fleeting at best. After all, and much to his well-noted chagrin, the brilliant Peter Sellers was Clouseau, playing him in a number of "Pink Panther" films, even after his untimely demise (outtakes were cobbled together for 1982's "Trail of the Pink Panther").

Now, nearly a quarter of a century later (and following what at the time seemed like the last two "Panther" films from 1983 and 1993), the very alive Steve Martin has not only decided to tackle the well-known role, but also co-write the script (along with Len Blum) for the loose remake of the original film "The Pink Panther." The results aren't as bad as I feared or imagined upon hearing about the project -- especially since it reunited Martin with his "Cheaper By the Dozen" director Shawn Levy -- but that's not meant to imply in any way that what's made it onto the screen is any good.

Rather, it's that Martin -- doing something of an impression of Sellers playing Clouseau, down to the accent, actions and more -- occasionally gets some decent laughs out of the material. That's most notable in a scene where he tries to get rid of his French accent before heading off to America. (He does so to trail the character played by Beyoncé Knowles who may have once had a more substantial role in the film but now seemingly appears just as eye candy and/or the source of a song to better help sell the associated soundtrack).

In that scene, his erudite instructor tries to teach him how to say "I would like to buy a hamburger," but all he can muster is what's best described as a butchering of the latter word. It's a rather funny scene, even if it feels more like Martin -- who's quite amusing showing the character's growing frustration and ability to mimic the American accent he's hearing -- just doing one of his zany comic riffs rather than playing Clouseau.

Even so, and despite a number of physical gags that flop more often than they fly -- including scenes of him trying to attack his partner played by Jean Reno who's doing a reverse Cato bit from the original films -- Martin's the best thing the film has to offer. Whenever he's not on the screen, the film simply and completely flounders.

And much of that occurs when Kevin Kline appears playing the Chief Inspector Dreyfus role originated long ago by Herbert Lom. The latter managed to be quite amusing playing Clouseau's increasingly irritated and frustrated boss, but while Kline goes through the motions, it certainly seems clear that he would have been better trying his hand at the bumbling inspector rather than playing his superior.

Similarly wasted is Emily Mortimer playing Clouseau's secretary (mainly around to appear in innocent scenes made to look sexually scandalous by the film for intended laughs). Clive Owen briefly appears a few times as a British secret agent one number less than the most famous one, but that's about as imaginative as the filmmakers get with the material.

They do a number of riffs on some of the earlier films' more signature comedic moments -- the spinning globe scene, the floor collapsing beneath characters moments, etc. -- but while they obviously serve as some loving homage to their predecessors, such elements are far more amusing and/or cute than funny, let alone hilarious. Other similar moments include Henry Mancini's still fun signature score, as well as the cartoon opening credits featuring the colorful if mute feline who later got his own TV show and endorsement ads for a certain insulation product.

While you'd be hard pressed to consider the original "Pink Panther" films as outstanding comedies, they certainly and undeniably contained brilliant individual moments and the masterful touch of Sellers completely dominating the role. And that's what makes them so much better than this pale imitation that goes through the motions, but never manages to generate as much comedy magic as its predecessors.

If anything, perhaps the film and Martin's impersonation of Sellers might make some viewers seek out the earlier pictures to see what warranted the update. That doesn't earn it any additional points on the artistic scale, but at least that might be one positive result of an otherwise forgettable and unnecessary remake. "The Pink Panther" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 6, 2006 / Posted February 10, 2006

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