THE PINK PANTHER

Maybe it's because the last "comedy" I saw was Date Movie (undoubtedly the least funny movie of 2000-2100, and it's relatively early in the century) but I actually found the new Pink Panther kind of funny. (My Pink Panther credentials are a box set of the MGM features, in VHS — with gaps filled in like the Universal Studios' "Return of" — and most of them memorized. Yet, at risk of forfeiting that credibility, I will continue.)

Fortunately, it's not a remake of the best lines of Clouseau strung together and re-enacted by Steve Martin. Unlike Geoffrey Rush who uncannily played Peter Sellers playing Clouseau and other characters in his biopic of the actor, Martin wisely doesn't play Sellers and instead plays Clouseau. So once you quit trying to mentally paste Peter Sellers' face onto Steve Martin (which admittedly takes a few minutes) and think about it as seeing somebody playing Clouseau instead of seeing Clouseau himself — perhaps it's been on Broadway for twenty years and you're seeing the twelfth cast — your suspension of disbelief just might take over and let you enjoy yourself.

I mean, let's face it, we watch PP movies for two things: funny talking and extreme slapstick, preferably involving property damage.This one delivers enough of both, and even continues a few of the recurring gags without repeating them exactly. The only thing missing is an elaborate disguise (though there is a kind of simple one).

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Credit goes to Emily Mortimer and Jean Reno for playing it straight, which helps make up for Kevin Kline's slightly overdone performance (though it's hard to say Herbert Lom was never over the top). The only wasted time is a few moments when we're supposed to feel sorry for Clouseau when he's taken off the case: this isn't supposed to be drama and no one watches Clouseau because they sympathize with him! It's all about laughing at him, not with him.

One of the good bits was Clive Owen playing Agent 006 in a glorified cameo. I can hear you thinking, "Well it really says something about a movie when its best bit is parodying another franchise" but I think it is in the spirit of the Blake Edwards movies which regularly sent up other popular movies, both contemporary and classic. And since Sellers himself played a James Bond in Casino Royale (and Roger Moore had a shocking cameo in "Curse of" while filming Octopussy), it's not an unnatural connection.

Oh yeah, the other thing missing is Cato, Clouseau's Chinese manservant, making me wonder if the prospect of having a character addressed as "my little yellow friend" over and over might have been one of the motivations to make this a sort of "prequel" about Clouseau becoming an Inspector for the first time before Cato had been hired (he wasn't introduced until A Shot in the Dark).

I'm not saying it was necessary to make this movie, but since it was made it's worth a dollar or a rental if you like silly stuff. All I'm saying is, I did laugh. More than once. It's a thousand times funnier than Date Movie. But if you want something to remind you of Sellers, then rent The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.

Remember, it might have been worse: before Martin was hired, Chris Tucker was scheduled to be the new Clouseau! And if nothing else, I can guarantee it's better than the last three Steve Martin comedies (and I haven't even seen Bringing Down the House, Cheaper by the Dozen, or Cheaper by the Dozen 2).

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