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Bewildering Stories

Shawn Levy, dir., The Pink Panther

film review by Michael J A Tyzuk

The Pink Panther
Director: Shawn Levy
Distributor: MGM
Rating: PG
Length: 1h 32m

When I first heard that there was going to be something of a revival of the Pink Panther franchise I was quite excited. My thinking was that the world had been without the sheer comic buffoonery of Inspector Jacques Clouseau for entirely too many years. When I heard that Steve Martin was going to be playing the daft Inspector I was even more excited. After all, if anyone can do slapstick it’s Steve, right?

As much as I wanted to, I didn’t see the movie in the theatres because I’m inherently cheap. About a week after it came out on DVD I stopped off at the local HMV, came home and fired up the TV. Even after all this time I was still excited. After all, if anyone can do justice to the Sellers/Edwards vision it’s Steve Martin, right?

Yes. And no.

I grew up with the Pink Panther. My father made sure we saw each and every movie when it was released. In later years we rented them on video, and even bought a few from time to time. I even made sure I bought my own copies when I started rebuilding my movie collection. I’m proud to say that the only one I don’t have yet is The Curse of the Pink Panther. So I think I can safely say that I have a very clear idea of what does and does not make a good Pink Panther movie, having had an entire lifetime of exposure to it.

First of all, Clouseau was well and truly incompetent, and it was only through the machinations of luck that he actually achieved anything in his life. He literally stumbled from one misadventure to another, and the sole and only reason he was as sucessful as he was is because he was in the right place at the right time and managed to be the last man standing.

The late Peter Sellers understood this, and he played the part to a perfect Tee. Martin, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand this at all. Martin’s Clouseau is actually somewhat intelligent, capable of reasoning of a sort, but just as clumsy as the Sellers version. He’s still a complete and total smeghead, but he’s actually a reasonably intelligent smeghead, which in and of itself is shocking enough.

The Kevin Kline Dreyfus is also markedly different from the Herbert Lom Dreyfus. Lom’s character was certainly insane, and growing more so with increasing exposure to Clouseau. And yes, he did attempt to assassinate the wayward detective on a number of occasions, but he wasn’t anything like as cold and calculating as Kevin Kline portrays him to be.

When Lom’s Dreyfus wasn’t trying to kill Clouseau he was trying to keep him away from the more high profile cases. Kline’s Dreyfus, on the other hand, wants Clouseau to be a convenient patsy, a magnet for media attention to distract the world while Dreyfus circles in for the kill and solves the crime.

The famed costumer, Doctor August Balls, is missing, as is Kato, Clouseau’s Chinese manservant. In Kato’s place we have Gilbert Ponton, a dectective assigned by Dreyfus to keep an eye on Clouseau and report his movements. Instead of Kato attacking Clouseau, Clouseau attacks Ponton, usually with disastrous results. One particular scene in a hotel room is quite amusing.

Taking into account the universe already presented in the Sellers/Edwards movies, one reaches the inescapable conclusion that this version of the Pink Panther just doesn’t cut it. Too many things are either different or missing for this to be a genuine part of the series. However, if one can somehow manage to set aside that knowledge, that familiarity with the existing universe (a difficult chore, especially when you see Martin’s Clouseau struggling to order a hamburger from an English language coach), one actually begins to realize that the movie does have some redeeming qualities.

There are some moments of legitimate comic genius, and at least one part in the film I found myself laughing out loud, but those moments are few and far between. As far as the story is concerned, I’ve seen better attemps to write a good comedic mystery, but I’ve also seen worse. The best word I can find to describe it is mediocre. We won’t even talk about the accent.

As well-intentioned as the filmakers were, the movie is predominantly painful to watch, especially for someone who remembers the Sellers Clouseau. The movie is well positioned as a vehicle to introduce people to the character of Clouseau, but it largely fails at that task because the character as presented isn’t Clouseau.

My advice: Watch the movies and judge for yourself, but if you’re going to watch this one then you should also watch the originals. Then you’ll understand why I’m so disappointed.

Copyright © 2006 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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