2006-03-17 / Columnists


'The Pink Panther' - No Peter Sell-Out
By Robert Snyder

I went to see "The Pink Panther" expecting the worst: A trashy copy of the classic Peter Sellers-Blake Edwards comedy, which started the lucrative '60's franchise. Although Steve Martin is a comic genius in his own right, I anticipated that his interpretation of Seller's bumbling Inspector Clouseau would be a sell-out, a grab at a few quick bucks on the back of a beloved, departed movie icon.

However, my fears were unrealized. "The Pink Panther" remake shows Martin, who co-wrote the script with Len Blum, in top slapstick form, with original and unrelenting physical and verbal silliness hitting the screen non-stop. In fact, Martin hasn't been funnier since his "Saturday Night Live"- Wild and Crazy Guy days.

Yes, he's not Peter Sellers, but he invests the character with is own brand of zaniness, which works fine for the audience of mostly youngsters who, like it or not, may never experience Seller's comic brilliance.

Directed by Shawn Levy (prior Martin collaborator with "Cheaper by the Dozen"), "Panther" pits the Clouseau against his pompous superior, Dreyfus (Kevin Kline in the Herbert Lom role), who wants an inept police official to work on a high-profile murder-jewel robbery case. His reasoning is that when the case is bungled, Dreyfus, himself, will jump in, solve the case and get all the glory. Of course, no one bungles better than Jacques Clouseau. But, his ineptitude ultimately backfires on Dreyfus.

Martin handles the Rube Goldbergian bits with relish (he cuts a lamp wire and a magnificent chandelier crashes from the lobby's ceiling below; he detaches a large globe, which rolls through the Paris streets wreaking havoc throughout the film.)

Still, his funniest stuff follows Seller's lead as he mangles the English language, French-style. One hilarious sequence has a speech therapist making a fruitless attempt to Americanize Clouseau's accent as the inspector becomes hopelessly stuck on the word, "hamburger."

Also featured is singer Beyonce, displaying her gifts, which do not include an ounce of acting talent. While her one musical number starts well, it is upstaged by Clouseau and his partner, Gilbert (Jean Reno), undulating in multi-colored body suits pretending to be her backup singers.

If you and your kids are looking for a few laughs, go see "The Pink Panther." Martin makes it work in his own way. He may not be Sellers, but he certainly doesn't peter out.

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