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Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Pink Panther

My dearest friend Melanie, who lives in England, e-mailed me today to let me know that she heard on the news that there were strange sounds coming from under a rosebush located at the far end of the Golden Green Crematorium complex in London, next to the Chapel of Memory columbarium, right where Peter Sellers’ ashes were buried. No doubt he is spinning in his grave at the realization that his trademark Inspector Clouseau has been hijacked by Steve Martin and resurrected in a remake of The Pink Panther.

He wasn’t the only one. I asked my husband if he wanted to see
The Pink Panther with me this week at the Essex Cinemas because I knew how seriously he took the original series of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films that starred Sellers back in the 1960s. For my husband and no doubt countless others, remaking The Pink Panther was tantamount to redoing the Sistine Chapel in Spongebob Squarepants wallpaper. There just wasn’t going to be any good reason in the world to explain doing it. So I went alone and consoled myself with the wonderful company of Dale and Karen Chapman, the managers of the Essex Cinemas, and chatted with them for a while before the movie began. They have some exciting news about an event coming up in April that I’ll be sure and post here as soon as I have all the details, but for the moment you’ll just have to settle for my take on The Pink Panther.

One of the greatest advantages of remaking a forty-two year old movie that is not seen regularly on
television is that a whole new generation will have nothing to compare it to and the golden oldies like myself will (hopefully) have had their memories fade enough so that they won’t remember whether this version is an improvement on the original or a travesty. Of course the key to succeeding with this plan is to create a story good enough to entertain. The story here is simple enough.


Yves Gluant (Jason Statham) is the coach of the French soccer team competing for the World Cup. As he is introduced at the start of the game he proudly waves to the crowd showing them his prized possession, the largest pink diamond ring in the world, known as The Pink Panther. By game’s end, Gluant is dead on the field and the ring is gone ~ seemingly stolen in front of thousands of fans in the stadium and millions watching on television.

For Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, In & Out; The Ice Storm), this case offers him a chance at glory. He has been nominated and yet passed up seven times for a Citizen of the Year Award and believes that by solving Gluant’s murder he will be guaranteed the award this year. To make sure he is not trumped by another officer on the case he seeks out and promotes the worst policeman in France to the rank of Inspector and puts him in charge so that the media will be distracted by that idiot’s incompetence while Dreyfus works quietly to find the killer and then make a grandiose arrest at just the right moment. Hence, the bumbling Jacques Clouseau enters the scene. Clouseau (Steve Martin, Shopgirl; Cheaper by the Dozen) is as eager as he is incompetent, and as he inadvertently destroys most everything in his wake he awkwardly investigates.

The film really has no plot from this point but is a series of hilarious sketches with Emily Mortimer as Nicole, his stoic secretary, and Jean Reno as Gendarme Gilbert Ponton, his appointed assistant (who is really there to spy on him for Dreyfus). They assume their roles as “straight men” earnestly and allow Martin to steal the show with his parade of visual slapstick that guarantees belly laughs galore.

Along the way he is entertained by Xania, Gluant’s girlfriend. Xania, allegedly acted by songstress Beyoncé Knowles is the weakest link in this movie. She offers only a couple of assets overall to the movie itself and they are both holding up the front of her dress. Other than that, her performance could have been turned in by an oak ~ she was just that wooden.

Of course, Beyoncé’s presence is an obvious ploy to attract the younger crowd to the theater, but I hardly think it necessary. The original fans may have problems letting themselves enjoy some of the hammier moments of Martin’s routine but for those unfamiliar with Sellers’ work it will seem fresh and hysterical. Even hard-core Panther aficionados will have to admit that if anyone can bring a great comic spin to the character if Clouseau it is Steve Martin. Even his cheesy French accent is just cheesy enough to bring a giggle and not an
outright groan (except, perhaps, to Jean Reno, the only actual Frenchman in the principle cast).

By film’s end Inspector Clouseau has surprised everyone with his off-handed abilities to solve the case and he manages to find the killer and
The Pink Panther diamond itself. The world is set right for everyone except poor, long-suffering Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who, naturally, suffers one last accidental and painful degradation because of the Inspector, leaving the audience roaring with laughter and ready for the inevitable sequel.

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