When a world champion soccer coach (Jason Statham) is murdered on the playing field, and his gigantic pink diamond ring is stolen, French Police Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) looks to keep the press away and steal the mystery-solving glory for himself. To distract the media, he brings in bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) to make a mess of the investigation. Finding the opportunity to impress his bosses, Clouseau sets off on the trail of an American singer (Beyonce Knowles, who should stick to singing) to find the killer and recover the diamond.
As much as a misfire the new incarnation of "The Pink Panther" (IMDb listing) is, it's not like this franchise hasn't been in the dumps before. Series creator Blake Edwards spent a good chunk of his career squeezing the "Panther" teat dry, culminating in his own attempt to reboot the franchise with the 1993 Roberto Benigni flop, "Son of the Pink Panther." So forgive me if I don't pounce on Steve Martin for having the nerve to try to reinvent a beloved character of 1960s cinema.
I'll give him this much: Martin sure can work up a sweat. The new "Panther" showcases a lively Martin, bouncing around the frame in a way that is entirely unexpected from this 60-year-old actor. Clearly savoring the golden opportunity to play Clouseau, the comic digs into every bumble, grimace, and moment of buffoonery like a child at the bottom of his first ball crawl. Of course, the momentum of Martin's silliness can only take the production halfway, and the script just isn't up to snuff in this latest stab at killing the Peter Sellers legacy.
The screenplay, by Len Blum and Martin, is strung together by repetitive sequences where Clouseau either falls down or generally makes himself an annoyance, staying true to the "Panther" spirit of slapstick. But what was once 1963 is now 2006, begging the question, can the same rules for comedy apply today?
I'm not convinced they can. "Panther" is fearless in dreaming up ways for wacky situations to occur, and while some adhere close to the classic bits of yesteryear (Clouseau fiddling with a retractable hospital bed, Dreyfus not noticing a leaky pen), the new "Panther" attempts to tart itself up with a considerable amount of sexually-themed jokes (Clouseau tries to take a Viagra at one point), and the phantom zone of fart humor. Martin and Blum are writing in every pratfall or double-take they can, hoping something will connect. Their director, the unremarkable Shawn Levy ("Cheaper by the Dozen"), dutifully goes along and does his best to keep the picture as lightweight as possible. The film is mostly made up of moldy material, and long stretches go by without a laugh, made even worse when Martin and his co-stars (including Jean Reno, Clive Owen, Emily Mortimer, and Kristen Chenoweth) flop around the screen expecting giggles to follow immediately.
However, all is not lost with "Panther." There's a good bit with Clouseau trying to fit in with American culture, and occasionally a quick moment arrives when Martin's brazen mugging scores at least a smile. Overall, it isn't so much that the new "Pink Panther" is needless, but more that it's just not motivated enough to be truly uproarious. I give Martin credit for his boundless energy, but when it's in service of mediocrity (like most of his recent career), it results more in wincing than laughing.
Filmfodder Grade: D+