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The Pink Panther

(2006) ** Pg
92 min. MGM. Director: Shawn Levy. Cast: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Henry Czerny.

The march of the remakes continues with The Pink Panther, MGM's resuscitation of Blake Edwards' popular eight-film comedy series. Excepting 1968's aberrant Inspector Clouseau (of which Edwards had no part), the new Pink Panther is the first made without the creative guidance of Blake Edwards. Peter Sellers famously and brilliantly invented the role of Inspector Clouseau, and played it to the hilt in six films (a seventh featured him posthumously, in clips, and the eighth cast Roberto Benigni as Clouseau's offspring).

Among comedy fans, recasting Clouseau is sacrilege, but many stars have circled the tempting part like moths to a flame. Mike Myers, Kevin Spacey, and Chris Tucker all considered the chance to be resented for doing their version of Sellers' indelible shtick, but Steve Martin finally accepted the impossible mission. On the evidence of the Cheaper by the Dozen films, Bringing Down the House, and The Out-of-Towners, Martin had pretty much spent his wild-and-crazy cachet years before, suggesting the Sellers insult could only lead to a Martin injury.

Well, The Pink Panther is bad, a scattershot affair with more embarrassing moments than laughs. And yet my vitriol for Martin's late-period laziness on screen melted into sympathy. He had, I realized, made an effort to make this film work. For starters, it's the first out-and-out comedy Martin has written since 1999's Bowfinger (Len Blum gets co-screenwriter credit). And the star obviously put some energy into a handful of bits that are either go-for-broke (an amusing sight gag that plants Emily Mortimer's crotch in Martin's face) or, surprisingly, witty.

In one scene, Martin ruthlessly deconstructs the politically incorrect accent humor that fueled much of Sellers' career. The clueless inspector becomes giddy when interrogating a Russian suspect (Henry Czerny). The Russian accent, Clouseau explains, is just so funny. Live-action "funny" accents have become tricky business in our politically correct age (The Simpsons somehow gets a pass); Martin's acknowledgement is worth a smile. The same vein of humor, ironically, yields the film's best laugh, when Clouseau fancies that he has the investigative chops to go undercover in New York. A professional speech coach attempts to teach Clouseau a Standard American dialect, but he can't master a word ("hamburger"), much less a sentence.

But Martin's innate verbal panache is the only asset that shows any reliability here ("With me," notes Clouseau, "surprises are rarely unexpected"). Martin's mugging characterization of Clouseau feels impersonal, a far cry from Sellers' storied ability to inhabit a role. The 60-year-old Martin also strains for comic grace in many of the physical sequences. The old Clouseau-Kato shtick gets an inversion as Clouseau tests the alertness of his partner Ponton (Jean Reno) with frequent physical attacks, but Martin never sparks to these scenes. Both actors are thoroughly embarrassed by a climactic bit of foolishness involving camouflage outfits.

Martin's support is estimable, but strangely remote. Aside from Reno, Czerny and the always fetching Mortimer, director Shawn Levy rounded up Kristen Chenoweth, Roger Rees, and Beyoncé Knowles (well, the less said about the latter, the better). The hugely talented Kevin Kline plays the ever-rankled Chief Inspector Dreyfus—a role defined by the inimitable Herbert Lom—but for whatever reason (a failure of script, direction, and/or performance) Kline fails to achieve much comic friction. On the other hand, Reno's poker-faced business is droll, but his character makes little sense. Jason Statham and Clive Owen make cameo appearances, the latter in a way that will leave movie-biz gossipers and armchair psychologists equally curious.

It's the stench of desperation that finally does The Pink Panther in. Martin and Levy (the genius behind Cheaper by the Dozen) seem to be channeling The Naked Gun as much as the Edwards films (note the exploding street cart and the ironic conclusion, among many gags that defy logic). Clouseau was always the "quiet storm" blithely tearing through snotty society, but The Pink Panther makes the man of a piece with a vulgar culture of ringtones, internet, and Viagra. When the film ends with the line "That breeze feels good," it's an invitation to escape the theatre.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 2/22/2009

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Pink Panther makes its Blu-ray debut in a special edition that replicates and adds to the DVD extras as well as providing an upgrade in image quality. Though a bit on the soft side, the transfer excels in the areas of cleanliness, solidity (no noise or jittering here), and color, including a nice, deep black level; audio is equally satisfactory, with a robust Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. The Blu-ray exclusive Code Pink: Animated Graphics-in-Picture Track, when enabled, allows "the animated Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau...[to] pop up to bring you fun facts and trivia tidbits."

A commentary by director Shawn Levy isn't exactly scintillating, but he does explain what it was like working with Steve Martin and filming on storied locations.

Eleven "Deleted & Extended Scenes" (24:08 with "Play All" option, SD) come with optional director's commentary.

"Cracking the Case" (22:05, SD) is a reasonably in-depth making-of, with generous behind-the-scenes footage and often amusing interviews with Steve Martin, Levy, executive producer Ira Shuman, Kevin Kline, writer Michael Saltzman, Beyoncé Knowles, Kristin Chenoweth, Jean Reno, production designer Lilly Kilvert, and costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi.

"Animated Trip" (8:52, SD) tells the tale of the titles, with animation director Bob Kurtz, animator Eric Goldberg and editor Ken Smith.

"Deconstructing the Panther" (10:15, SD) looks specifically at the filming of the climactic scene at the Sorbonne. Participants include Levy, 1st assistant director Marty Eli Schwartz, Kilvert, Knowles, Aulisi, Kline, Martin, and stunt coordinator Dominique Fouassier.

Sleuth-Cams are extensive B-roll montages of the shooting of three scenes (including preparations and actors hanging out or discussing the scene with Levy): "'Killer' Press Conference" (5:22, SD), "Soccer Set-Up" (6:55, SD) and "Curtain Call" (6:47, SD).

Beyoncé fans will dig the inclusion of her "Music Video 'Check on It'" (4:14, SD) and "Extended Beyoncé Performance: 'A Woman Like Me'" (4:34, SD), which comes with optional commentary by Levy. Lastly, Sony hooks us up with additional online content through the magic of BD-Live.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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