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The Pink Panther (2006)

Truth be told, the five original Pink Panther movies aren't all that great — and that's not even counting Alan Arkin's Inspector Clouseau or the three wretched cash-ins that followed Peter Sellers' death in 1980. Warmed by nostalgia, we only remember the funniest parts of director Blake Edwards' comedies starring Sellers as idiot French cop Jacques Clouseau. But watch the films today, and you'll notice the padding surrounding the good stuff — not to mention the franchise's rapid decline after Sellers' return to the role in 1975's Return of the Pink Panther (the first film in which Clouseau's accent gets cartoonishly broad). But for all their shortcomings, the Sellers Panther films have two things going for them: (1) At his best, director Blake Edwards really knew how to stage a sight-gag in a widescreen film frame. And (2) at his best, Sellers really knew how to play them. And so, with that setup, let's pour a nice, tall glass of haterade and discuss Steve Martin's soul-quakingly lame 2006 remake of The Pink Panther. Of course, "remake" is the wrong word. The 1963 Panther was a decidedly adult entertainment, with Sellers buzzing around David Niven, who played a dashing jewel thief who steals Clouseau's wife in addition to the titular diamond. Panther '06 couldn't dream of being that sophisticated. In fact, it wouldn't dream of making any sense whatsoever. This time around, a soccer coach (Jason Statham) is murdered in front of an entire stadium crowd in Paris, his gigantic pink diamond ring whisked right off his finger. Fame-hungry Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, looking bored) wants to solve the case himself. So he promotes the stupidest provincial gendarme he can find (Martin, playing Steve Martin doing a bad Clouseau impression) to publicly investigate the case while Dreyfus solves it behind the scenes.

What follows is one lame, nonsensical scene of horribly staged, idiotically simple slapstick after another — all of it further torpedoing Steve Martin's national-treasure rep, all of it floundering to capture the buffoonish sprit of the '70s Panther films, and none of it tethered to story, logic, or character. There are two — two — mildly amusing jokes in The Pink Panther (and that's including the animated opening credits): a gag in which Clouseau steps in a soundproof recording booth to fart, not knowing the mikes are live, and a longish bit where he struggles to say the word "hamburger." That's it. The rest of the time, stuff just sort of happens, aimlessly and noisily, with the pratfalls never getting more sophisticated than people (mostly bicyclists and old people) falling over a lot. Martin wears funny socks, misuses the language, thinks dead people fall into the chalk outlines, and drives a really tiny car that he still can't parallel-park. Clive Owen shows up in a tux and plays Agent 006 for a while. Jean Reno, as Clouseau's minder, looks acutely embarrassed, especially when he's forced to dance at gunpoint in a camouflage bodysuit. And Beyoncé Knowles, as a sexy suspect, sings shapeless, flavorless pop songs that perfectly typify the new Panther — like the movie itself, they're content-free entertainment products noisily servicing a perceived market niche. It's enough to make you miss the post-Sellers Panther films starring Ted Wass and Roberto Begnini. Sony/MGM's DVD release of The Pink Panther features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a feature commentary from director Shawn Levy, 11 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary and "play all," the featurettes "Cracking the Case" (22 min.), "Animated Trip" (8 min.), and "Deconstruction of the Panther: Creating the Palace Scene" (10 min.), three "sleuth-cams" with behind-the-scenes footage, an alternate opening title sequence with commentary, a Beyoncé music video, an additional Beyoncé performance with commentary, and previews for other Sony/MGM titles. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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