Pretty sleek

Latest installment ably carries on Panther tradition

OH MY GOD, IT IS PETER SELLERS! <br>Jean Reno and Steve Martin spot something interesting in <span style=The Pink Panther.">

Jean Reno and Steve Martin spot something interesting in The Pink Panther.

The Pink Panther
Starring Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyonce Knowles, and Jean Reno. Directed by Shawn Levy. Rated PG.
Rated 3.0

The Steve Martin entry in the Pink Panther series has been rather warily anticipated—owing in part to its much-delayed release, and even more-so, it appears, out of the inevitable comparisons of Martin’s Inspector Clouseau with that of Peter Sellers, who was of course the original farcically inept Clouseau in a half-dozen films directed by Blake Edwards between 1963 and 1983.

Some reviewers’ attachment to their memories of the Sellers Clouseau seems to have prevented their seeing this film in any but the most negative terms. But while it should go without saying that neither Steve Martin nor anybody else can ever dislodge Sellers as the archetypal Clouseau, Martin is nicely suited to the role and handles it here in ably entertaining fashion. And this latter-day installment of the series (the ninth overall and the first not directed by Edwards) testifies to both the durability and appeal in the franchise’s brand of comedy and character.

Martin’s version (he also co-wrote the screenplay) is an uneven but persistently frolicsome romp through familiar Clouseau/Panther territory—a farcical spoof of crime stories, murder mysteries, master detectives, etc.—with antics ranging from bedroom farce to comic misadventure to cartoonish slapstick and back again. Martin’s patented highbrow/ lowbrow style is tailor-made for this sort of thing, and our Steve is better suited than most to working variations on the nutty verbal humor—the malapropisms and mangled accents—that Sellers and Edwards first concocted for Clouseau circa 1963.

If the latest Pink Panther is missing a key ingredient, it’s probably less a matter of Sellers than of Blake Edwards at his best (a problem which at least half of Edwards’ own versions also shared). Shawn Levy’s direction is functional and adequate, but there’s plenty to enjoy all the same.

Martin percolates a worthy Clouseau throughout (as did Roberto Benigni in the apparently now-forgotten 1993 entry). And there is particularly good supporting work by Kevin Kline (as the antagonistic Commissioner Dreyfus), Emily Mortimer (as comically compliant secretary), Jean Reno (as Clouseau’s hulking, deadpan sidekick), and Clive Owen (in a cameo as “Agent 006"). And Beyoncé Knowles amiably plays along with the game (as a pop singer called “Xania").