By Pete Vonder Haar | February 12, 2006


There are any number of ways to address the harsh yet wholly anticipated fact that “The Pink Panther” is a bleak and humorless affair, bereft of even a modicum of the subtlety and wit that Peter Sellers and company brought to the original. The hard part isn’t realizing this, the hard part is figuring out where to begin.

Do I start by telling you the obvious? That we know this is going to be a dismal effort simply because it stars Steve Martin? How sad it is, that a comedian of Martin’s caliber, who – thirty years ago – was one of the funniest human beings alive, continues to churn out bottom of the barrel dreck like “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “Bringing Down the House?” The whole situation brings to mind an interview with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogarty I read in Rolling Stone some time back in the ‘80s. In it, Fogarty mentioned that he started playing CCR songs at his concerts because a friend of his remarked that if he didn’t, people were going to remember “Proud Mary” as a Tina Turner song. Martin’s already passed that point, since modern moviegoers are probably unfamiliar with the earlier brilliance of “The Jerk” and “The Man with Two Brains.” To them, he’s just that WASP-y guy who makes those forgettable family comedies.

Maybe I could go off on the humor used in the film, and how Sellers’ comic mastery is completely fumbled by Martin and director Shawn Levy (“Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Just Married”). Seller underplayed the gags in his film, and knew the paramount “less is more” rule of comedy. Of course, there’s really no way to rein in moments of genius like Steve Martin electrocuting his own s*****m, farting in a recording booth, or – I s**t you not – spending five minutes mispronouncing “hamburger.” As the movie plays out, you’ll find it hard to believe it was actually filmed in the 21st century, considering most of the jokes would’ve been right at home on “F-Troop” or “The Ropers.”

How about the acting? It isn’t universally horrendous, though you’ll find it hard to get past Martin, reciting each line with the dead eyes of a man whose immortal soul has long since fled his body. Kevin Kline, as Clouseau’s nemesis Chief Inspector Dreyfus, ought to know better, but he hasn’t been working a lot. Beyoncé can be forgiven. I mean, she’s dating Jay-Z, so we can already tell she isn’t that discriminating. The only one I felt sorry for was Jean Reno, who plays Ponton. His character is assigned to keep tabs on Clouseau, and you can see the realization of what he’s gotten into dawning gradually across his face the further we get into the movie.

Are there any redeeming qualities? Maybe, if you consider the camera zooming in lovingly on Beyoncé’s ample rear end a mitigating factor, and Clive Owen has a mostly amusing cameo as “Agent 006.” But these are fleeting moments, swallowed in the morass of ham-handed slapstick and clumsy double entendre. “The Pink Panther” is below average in every aspect except one: it – like almost every other remake in recent memory – is completely unnecessary.

One last thing for Steve Martin: you’ve appeared in a number of dramatic films in recent years, and have been receiving fairly good notices for them. My advice to you is to stick with the “Shopgirls” and “Spanish Prisoners” and give up on comedy for good, because frankly, you just aren’t f*****g funny anymore.

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