Review: “The Pink Panther”

After surviving numerous delays and reshuffles, “The Pink Panther” finally arrives in theatres though many will probably wish it didn’t. Quite frankly this attempt to restart the franchise is an unmitigated disaster, an attempt at kiddie-friendly broad comedy that fails to generate laughs on all but the rarest of occasions.

To be fair the original series were never exactly the greatest of comedies in the first place, but the combination of Blake Edwards slick direction and Peter Sellers finally honed knack for physical comedy delivered a kind of wildly obtuse slapstick that propped up the various limp scripts with frequent bouts of comedic genius.

The havoc-causing Clouseau, the often suffering Dreyfuss, the wild out-of-the-blue fights with Kato, etc. there was a freshness and brazeness to the laughs, a slightly darker and more inspired twist on the old comedy stylings of Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati. Even in the duller moments, of which the series had many, Sellers take on the character – one which he practically disappeared into that its hard to picture him as anything else – has become so synonymous that any actor inhabiting the role has big shoes to fill.

Steve Martin certainly can’t. Teaming again with director Shawn Levy, the pair made the awful “Cheaper by the Dozen” a few years back – but that film made enough bank that it would be no surprise if this earned coin as well. As a film in general, ‘Pink’ is just as bad as “Cheaper” – flat, unfunny, uninvolving and formulaic tripe that’s difficult to watch. Taken in a greater context though, as being part of a series like ‘Panther’ with such history, its nothing short of an embarrassment.

A lot of it is because the jokes completely misinterpret what worked in the original films – yes it was simple slapstick, but it worked because the Clouseau character was a charming and blissfully oblivious man seemingly unaware of much of the destruction he caused both directly and indirectly. By contrast Martin’s Clouseau is merely a buffoon, a pompous idiot who goes off in tirades and then does something inane (whether it be kicking a soccer ball or opening a car door) in order to cause somebody to fall over – often himself. The film follows such formulaic timing with its gags that you actually get a little bored waiting for the inevitable punchline which always seems to come a few seconds late.

Martin does his usual trick of playing himself, only this time with a fake moustache and atrocious accent. Yet he does at least seem to be trying for once instead of doing some autopilot schlock that we’ve seen in practically all his films since the mid-90’s. Kevin Kline tries his best with the trickier Dreyfuss role but utterly fails to capture the twitchy nefariousness and moments of maniacal glee so synonymous with Herbert Lohm’s unforgettable work. Beyonce is gorgeous but forgettable, and both Emily Mortimer and Jean Reno look so bored that one hopes their paychecks were good.

So is there anything redeeming? Henry Mancini’s brilliant score is used throughout and gives it all a bit more class than it deserves, even when Christophe Beck’s attempts at upgrading it don’t work. With so many gags attempted (around one every ten seconds), the odd physical gag does hit home more by pure accident than anything else. Finally, Bond fans will get a kick out of seeing former James Bond candidate Clive Owen briefly cameo as a tuxedoed British MI6 Agent.

Its few moments of laughs certainly aren’t enough to justify this aborted attempt at remaking a classic. Bad comedies are one thing, they’re forgettable. Bad comedies which tarnish the name of a beloved character are much worse, they’re not just life-sucking but soul-sucking as well. These bastardizations aren’t merely disappointments, they’re quite frankly travesties.