The Pink Panther Review
In Paris, a most heinous crime has been committed. The French football coach (a cameo by Jason Statham) has been murdered on the pitch before a game, in front of thousands of shocked witnesses. The motive seems to have been robbery. The coach's most valuable possession, a ring holding the Pink Panther diamond is missing from his finger.
Such a sensational case calls for the best detective in France. However, the city's police commissioner, the ambitious Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) doesn't want the credit for catching the killer going to anybody but him. He decides to find the worst cop in France, promote him to inspector and watch him screw everything up. Then Dreyfus himself will step in, solve the crime and get the glory. Enter Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin).
Steve Martin has made bad movies before but this is the first time he's been the worst thing in a film. Martin is horribly miscast as Inspector Clouseau, the nitwitted detective made famous by Peter Sellers in five hit films. Sellers' speciality was playing an innocent to whom funny things happened despite his best intentions. That made him ideal for acting in farce, a delicate style of comedy that depends on its players being unaware they are in one.
Steve Martin's is a completely different kind of humour, a much more extroverted kind. He's at his best playing larger than life characters like the sadistic dentist in Little Shop Of Horrors and the boorish con man in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In The Pink Panther, cast in a role that calls for a straight man, Martin clowns and gurns and tries too hard to be a funny imbecile. He plays Clouseau with a huge wink to the camera, which is fatal to the material. Gag after gag falls flat because Martin sells them too hard.
The rest of the cast, even the non-comedians, understand they have to play this material straight. Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer, playing Clouseau's partner and his assistant respectively, are both perfect. Reno gets laughs with his weary expression alone while Mortimer is a revelation here. Pop star Beyoncé Knowles is fine as the victim's girlfriend. Even Kevin Kline, himself badly cast in Herbert Lom's old part, keeps his mugging to a minimum.
With a better lead, The Pink Panther might have been a passable movie. It's not great, certainly nowhere near the standard of Sellers' best Clouseau films but it's better than you might expect. Working from a script by Len Blum and Martin himself, director Shawn Levy fires an endless stream of dumb jokes at the audience, a sufficient amount of which are amusing. There's a decent running gag involving Martin and Mortimer getting caught in compromising positions and there's the odd moment of inspiration, such as the appearance of a British star playing a familiar secret agent.
Sadly, whenever the movie comes close to taking off, Martin's wrongness in the lead holds it back. Who seriously thought he'd be a good choice for Clouseau? If there had to be a remake, Leslie Nielsen might have been the right man for the role. There's a comedian who knows how to play a straight man in a farce. The Naked Gun's Frank Drebin is practically Clouseau's American cousin. Maybe Nielsen's too old for the part but then so is Steve Martin.
Still, it could have been worse. According to the Internet Movie Database, the producers were at one point considering Chris Tucker!