The Pink Panther
2006Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, Beyoncé Knowles
hat exactly is the Pink Panther? I thought I knew, but it turns out I didn’t. Though I guess I wasn’t really old enough to understand what Peter Sellers was bubbling all over the room about, or why exactly my parents found it interesting, I was always under the assumption that the Pink Panther was that wiry, mischievous cartoon panther behind those infamous jewel heists, clever enough not to get caught. How he managed to pin the blame on Clouseau in the end always baffled me. But apparently this wasn’t the case. The Pink Panther, the story goes, is the “most fabulous diamond in all the world,” named as such for the flaw or pink discoloration at its core, which, naturally, resembled a panther.
In the original Pink Panther film, the egregiously underused Peter Sellers played the detective assigned to catch the Phantom, a mysterious jewel thief known for leaving a single, white monogrammed glove at the scene of each heist. The covetous diamond belongs to a Princess, quiet possibly of South Asian provenance, who’s visiting a Swiss resort where the Phantom is waiting to seduce her and eventually steal said diamond. All the necessary hi-jinks ensue, complemented by circuitous and often needless motives. But Sellers’ Clouseau is riotously funny, charming, and peerless in his physical comedy. The film almost seemed pointless without Clouseau in each scene.
Maybe this was Steve Martin’s intention in resuscitating The Pink Panther—there was still comedic bullion to mine—and despite momentary flashes of inanity, he seems to have availed himself rather well. To wit: Martin’s Clouseau isn’t a difference in degree from Sellers’ Clouseau, but a difference in breed: An altogether dumber and more graceless man, who brandishes his subtlety with a rubber mallet. Martin’s Clouseau serves as the film’s rasion d’etre. Where our Clouseau of ‘67 would lose his balance on a spinning globe, inevitably falling to the floor, hurting no one but himself, the ‘06 model sends the globe, much heavier and now made of metal, rolling through Paris, injuring numerous pedestrians. The new Clouseau has a zany breadth that, on a good day, could be mistaken for Austin Powers’s mojo. Whether incoherently pronouncing hamburger like a German (damburgert!) or staring vacantly as to the meaning of raconteur, Martin’s Clouseau works on so many levels.
This modern Clouseau, then—and unlike his progenitor—is hired to find the killer of the Yves Gluant, the coach of France’s notional soccer team and owner of the Pink Panther, “the most fabulous diamond in all the world.” Why exactly he owns this diamond isn’t really much of a concern for the film. Chief inspector Dreyfus, a perfectly cast Kevin Kline, has selected the hapless Clouseau in an attempt to find the killer and diamond himself, thus ensuring him France’s Medal of Honor. Keeping an eye on Clouseau is Ponton (Jean Reno of The Professional fame), his imperturbable side kick. Ponton plays the dutiful straight man to Clouseau’s risible ineptitude. Together on screen, they share the quiet bond of the imbecile and the sensible man who’s humoring him. This is Martin with a thin, smarmy moustache, undersized slacks from The Jerk, the volume cranked, and funnier than he’s been in years; since Cheaper by the Dozen, since Bringing Down the House, since Bowfinger.
Elsewhere, international Pop Star Beyoncé Knowles, playing international Pop Star Xania, could have just as easily not been in the film. She is wooden, which is as flattering as I can be. Conversely, the adorable rapport between Clouseau and his secretary (Emily Mortimer) could’ve been far more effectively exploited. A warm and silly ease anchors the scenes they share—an ease that quickly turns mawkish when Mortimer offers those kind, googly eyes.
In the end, Martin’s Panther is populated with American actors trafficking in faux-Parisian accents, preposterous and incredible when they need to be, and delightfully sweet when they don’t. That it hits all the right notes, simultaneously borrowing from Sellers’ atelier and adding its own whacky amplifications, is a testament to Martin’s formidable comedic chops. This is a welcome addition to the recent deluge of execrable remakes.
By: Ron Mashate
Published on: 2006-03-10