Recreating a role defined by a comedy genius is dangerous business that rarely pays off. Steve Martin is not Peter Sellers and his interpretation of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau will undoubtedly draw criticism for failing to achieve the mark. That said, the latest adaptation of The Pink Panther has its laughs and is by no means a disaster. It is purely slapstick comedy with a few sight gags that borderline cleverness. I had a few good chuckles and the surrounding audience did as well. The issue is that a lackluster script and poor direction do not make up for the comedy that works.
The plot begins with a famous English soccer coach (Jason Statham) murdered on the field after a glorious victory. The crime happens in plain view of the spectators, but nothing is seen. His defining piece of jewelry, the gargantuan Pink Panther diamond, is also stolen during the attack. The French Chief Inspector (Kevin Kline) knows that solving such a public crime will lead him to fame and glory. He decides to put the case in the hands of a patsy to distract the press and French citizenry from the real investigation. In comes the accident prone Inspector Clouseau (Steve Martin) to lead the bloodhounds away from the trail. The Chief assigns Clouseau one of his trusted aides, Ponton (Jean Reno), to monitor his progress and report every step.
The physical comedy in The Pink Panther is subjective to taste. As an audience member, you either find that humor funny or you don’t. If pratfalls come off as ludicrous, sitting through The Pink Panther will be an incredibly tedious experience. Because that is really the only thing done well in the film. Steve Martin does a decent job fumbling around from scene to scene, but it does pale in comparison to the sheer physical genius of the Peter Sellers performance.
Shawn Levy, the director, does a terrible job integrating the slapstick comedy into a coherent plot structure. We see a lot of gags intercut by a few tidbits of plot development. Then the finale comes out of nowhere with little or nothing to back-up it up. This can be blamed on a poor script, but the previous Pink Panther versions did not have intricate stories. They were successful because the overall product had a breezy feel that was very entertaining. This movie is laborious and clunky.
I am a huge fan of Steve Martin and did like him as Clouseau. The film didn’t live up to expectations, but his likeability did. I can’t help but feel that a stronger script would have shored up his performance. It’s as if the whole film is thrown into his lap to be entertaining. That philosophy works for a few comedians, but Martin’s strength is his ability to find comedy in an interesting situation. Hopefully the film will be successful and warrant a sequel. Then we can see if the faults here are addressed and a much better film can be made.