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Le Pew

No, Really—Steve Martin Stinks Up This Remake of Comedy Classic

OUR MAN SQUINT: Steve Martin searches for his dignity.

The Pink Panther

Director:Shawn Levy
Cast:Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyoncé Knowles, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Henry Czerny
Release Date:2006

Opens Feb. 10

By Cole Haddon | Posted 2/8/2006

Early on in this re-imagining of Blake Edwards’ comedy classic The Pink Panther, Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) barges into a studio where pop superstar Xania (Beyoncé Knowles) is recording her next hit single. This happens only days after her boyfriend, world-famous soccer coach Yves Glaunt (Jason Statham), is murdered. Clouseau wants Xania to fess up, but when the singer uses her smile and deep, sultry voice to distract Clouseau from her possible involvement, the detective’s partner, Gendarme Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno), presses her for information instead. Clouseau snaps, “Stop browbeating her! Can’t you see she’s sexy?”

OK, funny. What isn’t is that in this same scene Clouseau walks into what he has been told is a soundproof booth to squeeze out several farts as Xania, Ponton, and a studio full of musicians get an earful of his flatulence. Such is why Martin’s The Pink Panther is doomed to ignominy like his 1996 Sgt. Bilko remake: Rather than focus on the brilliant alchemy of script and physical humor that made Peter Sellers’ Clouseau movies classics, Martin (who also wrote the screenplay) and director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen) think fart jokes are still funny. Congratulations, Martin; your career hasn’t reached Chevy Chase and Martin Short depths, but Three Amigos 2 can’t be far away now.

After Glaunt’s murder, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline), a seven-time-nominee for the French Medal of Honor, plots to up his chances of scoring the award by solving the case after first assigning a rural police officer, Clouseau, to the investigation. Dreyfus figures that by promoting Clouseau—who he calls “the village idiot”—and waiting for him to screw everything up, he can look all the more impressive when he finally makes his own arrest.

With his promotion, Clouseau is given his own secretary, Nicole (Emily Mortimer), and Ponton, who is expected to spy on him. Ponton replaces the character of Kato, who appeared throughout the original Pink Panther movies and always ambushed Clouseau. This time out Ponton reacts to Clouseau’s sudden attacks—to keep Ponton vigilant—and Reno makes him a superior character update in every way, droll and deadpan but willing to make an ass out of himself when necessary—such as a rare moment of successful physical humor involving Clouseau and Ponton pretending to be Xania’s backup dancers.

The investigation eventually takes the detectives to Manhattan in pursuit of Xania, but Clouseau again bumbles everything by turning a quest for Viagra into an act of arson and getting arrested at the airport for trying to carry a bag full of weaponry onto the plane. The bag, of course, isn’t his, but his inability to pronounce “hamburger” correctly is his fault. Sellers employed a similar gag with his Clouseau but never abused it like Martin does here. The joke runs on and on and on, ceasing to be funny the first time out of the dozens it’s uttered.

The international fiasco costs Clouseau his job, not surprisingly—all going according to Dreyfus’ plan, bwahahaha—but doesn’t deter Clouseau from the case. By sheer luck, he manages to deduce who the true culprit is and, at a state function where Xania is conveniently performing, he reveals all with his now-loyal friend Ponton at his side. There are no surprises, no plot twists, nothing: Clouseau appears, says who did it, and saves the day. Yawn.

The real travesty here is not the abysmal attempt to re-create the Pink Panther movies’ charm; it’s in the reduction of Clouseau to a parody of Sellers’ performance, with Martin stripping any degree of unrecognized intellect from Clouseau and transforming him into a semiretarded man-child. No human being could be this stupid without requiring the full-time care of a trained professional. Ponton doesn’t qualify, despite the fact that Reno is the best thing about The Pink Panther.

Sellers played Clouseau as a bumbler, but there was always a dignity behind his clueless exterior, an innocence that supported his habitual clumsiness. And in the end, a misunderstood genius always got his due. Martin deserves his due, too, but applause shouldn’t be included.

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