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Trip, Stumble, Fall

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Steve Martin is a puzzle to me. He's an urbane, thoughtful, intellectually artistic and enormously talented man. He made his career with his groundbreaking stand-up routine in the 1970s, but he's always had a serious side, too: Think of his supporting performances in The Spanish Prisoner and Grand Canyon. He plays a mean banjo, and he can dance up a storm as he proved brilliantly in Pennies From Heaven. His physical comedy gifts are rivaled only by Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin, as his performances in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and particularly All of Me illustrate. He's a perceptive and subtle writer who can mix humor and heart with consummate skill, as evidenced in his screenplays for Roxanne, L.A. Story, and especially Bowfinger and Shop Girl. So why does he stoop to such inferior material as The Three Amigos, Sgt. Bilko or this most recent, disturbing trend of remakes that includes Cheaper by the Dozen and now the lamentable The Pink Panther?

I even wonder if Martin watched the original Pink Panther before concocting (in collaboration with Len Blum) his screenplay for the current dud of a do-over. Writer-director Blake Edwards' 1963 original arose out of the context of stylish caper/suspense flicks that included such titles as It Takes a Thief, Topkapi, North by Northwest and Charade. The Pink Panther soared on Peter Sellers' stumbling turn as French Police Inspector Jacques Clouseau. But the picture would have worked without Sellers' shenanigans, and, in fact, he replaced Peter Ustinov in the role and insisted on scenes of physical comedy that Edwards granted only grudgingly. Clouseau's second outing in A Shot in the Dark has a similar history. It is based on an established stage play that had Clouseau's character written into it at the last minute, not a central element, if you will, but an add-on. In short, the origins of The Pink Panther do not lie in Seller's slapstick (I'll not even comment on the lame resuscitation of the series in the 1970s that offered nothing but slapstick) but in good storytelling. Alas, the script for the current film barely bothers with storytelling at all.

Directed by Shawn Levy, the ostensible "narrative" in today's Pink Panther returns to a quest for a missing diamond wrapped around a murder mystery. A champion French soccer coach is stabbed with a poison dart, and his huge diamond ring is stolen, apparently in plain sight. Chief Police Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) suspects a Chinese diplomat of the crime and wants time to pursue proof. To protect his own investigation from the public spotlight, Dreyfus assigns Clouseau (Martin) to the case and sits back to watch Clouseau make a fool of himself. But don't let this summary make a fool of you. Without development, an idea for a plot does not a plot make. The picture offers no plausible explanation for Drefus' suspicions about the Chinese official, nor does it bother to invent anything clever about Clouseau's concentration on other suspects.

What the picture substitutes for invention is a spin on some aspect of the original material. A Shot in the Dark introduced Clouseau's assistant Cato, (Burt Kwouk), whose job it was to pester the inspector with surprise attacks so as to keep him on his toes. The current Clouseau is assigned Gendarme Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno, whose hooded eyes suggest a desire to cover himself from naked embarrassment). Ponton's job is to defend himself from surprise attacks that Clouseau launches against him for no good reason whatsoever.

Beyonce Knowles checks in as the soccer coach's squeeze Xania and offers some daring cleavage along with a couple of forgettable tunes. She might be a suspect, but that would require the picture to be interested in its own story. Emily Mortimer is the beautiful administrative assistant behind a pair of glasses and intertwines herself with Clouseau on two suggestive occasions that prove integral to absolutely nothing.

So, in the end, what we have is an assemblage of physical mishaps that are supposed to be comedic though they could only be funny to the utterly witless. Martin limits himself to one fart joke. But the elderly and infirm get hammered. An old lady with a cane gets boinked in the head with blue siren light, and an old man in a wheel chair gets pushed down a flight of stairs. Ha ha ha. Kline's Dreyfus is stabbed with a badge pin, smeared with ink, smashed in the eye, encased in plaster from head to toe and then tormented in his adjustable hospital bed. Of course, he deserves this treatment. Yuk yuk yuk.

Aside from the old lady, there are seven other head boinks, three bicycle crashes, two electric shocks, a runaway globe the size of a Volkswagen and a guest appearance by Special Agent 006 (Clive Owen). The decision to eschew a partridge in pear tree is indicative of the filmmakers' commitment to avoiding clichŽs. Ho ho ho.

Why, Steve, Why? Steve Martin continues his obsession with - movie remakes with a tepid turn as Inspector Clouseau in - this limp remake of the classic Peter Sellers comedy, - The Pink Panther.
  • Why, Steve, Why? Steve Martin continues his obsession with movie remakes with a tepid turn as Inspector Clouseau in this limp remake of the classic Peter Sellers comedy, The Pink Panther.

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