Depending on how you look at it, the remake of The Pink Panther is either a step forward or a step back for Steve Martin. In between such memorable, offbeat films as The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, L.A. Story and Shopgirl, Martin has peppered his career with surefire remakes and sequels. With Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride, Pennies from Heaven, The Out-of-Towners, Sgt. Bilko, Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Little Shop of Horrors, Martin has cemented his reputation as the king of remakes.
It’s not a bad gig and, at Martin’s age, a safe bet. What better way to engage new fans while placating old ones? It’s what I like to call a wedding film: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The films aren’t exactly challenging, but they are crowd- pleasers.
Which brings us to The Pink Panther, Martin’s latest foray into name recognition. Originally slated for a late summer release but held up when MGM became part of Sony Pictures, the delay reportedly allowed the new owners to tame down the sexual innuendo and turn The Pink Panther into a family-friendly film.
The last minute tinkering worked, as The Pink Panther emerges as a silly, slapstick comedy that remains true to its source while exploring modern avenues. Martin is frequently funny as inept Jacques Clouseau, a small-town idiot promoted to inspector after a soccer team coach is murdered and the infamous Pink Panther diamond is stolen. Unaware that his promotion is actually a ruse to keep the press away from the real investigation, Clouseau approaches the case with his usual fervor and passion. Teamed with French Inspector Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno, a master of wry expression) and hot on the trail of the killer, Clouseau manages to turn France and New York into destruction zones.
With his mangled French accent and wild sense of abandon, Martin is hilarious as he bounces, stumbles, trips and fumbles from one crazy sight gag to another. The screenplay by Martin and Len Blum is extremely respectful of the original Blake Edwards’ Panther films, relying heavily on larger-than-life slapstick moments to propel Clouseau above the chaos he creates.
When the Pink Panther diamond is stolen, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, appropriately befuddled) needs a little breathing room, so he promotes Clouseau and sets him up as a patsy Inspector. As Dreyfus and his team fail at every turn, Clouseau and Ponton set their sights on Xania (Beyoncé Knowles), the coach’s girlfriend and international singer. This plot device allows Clouseau to harbor romantic feelings for a woman completely out of his league, a nostalgic throwback to when Peter Sellers’ Clouseau wined and dined some of the most beautiful and romantic women on the screen.
Some would argue that Clouseau is sacred territory (Sellers was the definitive Clouseau), but the role does have enough wiggle room to allow Martin to give it a spin. Martin does just fine, and some scenes are pure genius (the brass globe gag goes on and on). Reno redefines the Kato role, constantly turning the tables on Clouseau, while Kline is great with the slow burn.
Levy, who directed Martin in the Cheaper by the Dozen films, feels comfortable with his star and allows him to carry the scene. The duo’s sense of timing turns throwaway jokes into hysterical asides. I was tickled Pink.