The 1964 original of The Pink Panther somehow got it just right. The 60's set the chic backdrop and a peerless performance from a true master of comedy Peter Sellers, sealed a place in filmgoer's hearts. It's one that's sat there ever since and any contemplation of trying to usurp it has always been up against it.
I'm not sure whether you'd agree or not but I personally don't think that there's ever been a more seductive and suggestive theme tune. When it comes to themes 'The Pink Panther' is just purr-fect. Henry Mancini's classical jazz idiom of a score has forever conjured up mischievous thoughts in my mind. I couldn't imagine anything else that paves the way for a bumbling French Inspector of a man to plod his way right through the middle of it. In fact when it comes to my all time favourites then this one is right up there.
Anyway, if you can accept the fact that the new film was highly unlikely to better the original, then your expectations will be set accordingly. Firstly, the remake is not an exact lift of the original story. In many ways the differing storyline allows the film some breathing space in order to help develop its own identity. Ultimately though, the question remains. Could Steve Martin or anyone else for that matter really step into the shoes left by the great Peter Sellers?
Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers were able to conjure up every last subtle nuance of what constituted 'funny' that it barely left any room for succession. It was clear from the results that there had been a rare chemistry between them when they made it. The irony of it remains though that even when Blake Edward tried to repeat the formula, he never could. Apart from 'A Shot in the Dark' some of the follow-ups were truly awful and it's an omen that's never boded well for a remake since.
Fans of the original would also have been horrified to learn that 2006 included Beyonce Knowles in a leading role. She maybe a cracking singer but I'm afraid she just can't act and any casting of her in a prominent position counts as at least one nail into the coffin. So, if there was ever going to be any credibility lent to this production then it was only ever going to come from the inclusion of Steve Martin, Kevin Kline and Jean Reno.
Desperate to earn the French medal of Honour, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) sets about trying to solve a very public case. The famous Pink Diamond is now owned by a famous football coach but a poisoned dart puts pay to him and the audacious broad daylight theft leaves the Gallic nation crying out for the loss of their most beloved gemstone once again. There's no surprise in that the story starts off with a velvet smooth crime...
Kevin Kline is no Herbert Lom (who played the inspector in the original) but he puts in a credible performance nonetheless. I'm afraid if you've seen the original you just can't help drawing the comparisons. Dreyfus here is played a little more calculating and cleverer than what you may have witnessed before.
Anyhow, with the crime occurring so publicly there is unprecedented media coverage over the case demanding the recovery of the diamond. Dreyfus realises very early on that the case has absolutely no chance of success with all manner of media intrusion surrounding it. His ploy is simple. Put in place a decoy investigative team that takes all the media flak whilst the real professionals investigate behind the scenes.
Little wonder then he sets about trying to find the most incompetent police inspector he can and in steps Inspector Jacques Clouseau; the most bumbling of buffoons you could possibly imagine or ever have the misfortune to meet. Steve Martin makes a stab of it but cutting to the chase, he comes up short. Let's not go there, he was not destined to take over the mantle from Peter Sellers; enough said.
Whilst there is some kudos gained for effort, what remains disappointing is that even allowing for the slack in the storyline, he fails to make the role truly his own. In many ways it's a defeatist performance since his depiction of Clouseau closely resembles how Sellers played him. Martin's performance though is a little more succinct and to the point and perhaps a little too direct as a result? The problem is simple; Steve Martin is no Peter Sellers and whilst a joke is a joke it can be a whole lot funnier when it's not so literal.
What Sellers possessed was a wonderful delay and draw into his delivery, expertly honed from his radio days, his off-beat timing was always brilliant; a momentary pause for the joke or the humour to get itself across and truly hit home. Peter Sellers knew he was funny whereas Steve Martin here is not so sure. In essence you'll recognise the Clouseau on offer but the shoes don't quite fit this time around and that's the difference in class between the old and the new.
Putting everything into context though, that's not to say that this film is a dud. It is funny but the adoption of an out and out hit or miss strategy is a faux pas in my book. The jokes are incessant but nothing is ever as subtle as it could and should have been. It really didn't need to be this way but I'm afraid that's the way Shawn Levy chose to direct it. Invariably there are more misses than hits and it's actually only the sheer quantity of jokes that enables it to register on the funny scale.
Events unfold as expected and the formula is much of the same as with all the Pink Panthers. If you're involved with Clouseau then it's not going to be long before the funny farm starts to beckon. The frustrations and despair caused to all those around him remain pretty much spot on and you just can't help but feel pity for them all. How this dimwit of a sleuth can solve any crime is beyond anyone's imagination.
Jean Reno plays his straight laced sidekick but he's no Cato and although Kevin Kline's Dreyfus is good neither actor can add the required dimension of quality. There is some saving grace in that this film is in no way as bad as some of the bizarre incarnations and the numerous follow ups that have followed on since the original. Whilst that's not exactly a fetching reason to want to watch this particular version of the film, I suspect a viewing will not harm you in any case.
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