Director: Shawn Levy
Cast: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, Beyonce Knowles, Emily Mortimer, Roger Rees, Henry Czerny
Plot: In order to solve a politically charged murder, Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (Kline) puts a bumbling detective on the case to waste time, while he figures out the culprit. That detective? Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin).
The remake of The Pink Panther has not gone down very well with most critics. It’s easy to see why. The Pink Panther is close to a lot of people’s hearts and as with any reboot, new blood coming in and trying to replicate the magic of an original franchise can be seen as an unwelcome prospect. However, for the most part, Levy’s 2006 modernising of the Pink Panther is one of the better franchise comebacks, especially in terms of comedies. Steve Martin is an inspired casting choice, the jokes work and there is a well-written story tying it all together. It turns out most of the contempt held for this movie is merely the critics too attached to the original for anyone to try their hand at something new.
I admit that some of the jokes from afar, seem a little try-hard. Levy plays it accessible, wanting to build laughs quickly and surely. Most of the scenes involve Clouseau strutting into a room and leaving a trail of destruction. There are a handful of jokes in this movie that I would usually loathe and criticise angrily in any other review. However, they work. For example, cyclists have a habit of perishing around the accident prone detective in over-the-top sight gags and there is one farting joke in a recording booth that is the opposite of everything I find funny. However, it is the man in the middle of them all that sells the jokes. Steve Martin is so game for the part that even when the movie really scrapes the barrel with a joke, he emerges from the other side intact. It’s not just the delivery of the jokes that he nails; he embodies the joke. He becomes Clouseau like a second skin, finding common ground with Peter Sellers’ cult performance with some of his other work. Like Bowfinger, Clouseau is more than an idiot – he is an idiot that is too far gone to even realise he is an idiot. In his head, he is the perfect detective, the Abberline to the killer’s Jack the Ripper, the Sherlock Holmes of his era. You end up admiring the thick skin of the character, as he blindly marches through disaster after disaster, always keeping that carefree ego his most domineering personality trait. This is why Levy is able to re-tread a tired joke like the ‘Good Cop Bad Cop’ sketch and make it seem fresh and amusing. Despite the case self-imploding around, much like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, you really want him to come out of this whole situation a hero. When the movie hits its final third and Clouseau finally figures out that he isn’t quite the man he believed he was, it is surprisingly touching. Steve Martin goes from fool-hardy to vulnerable in a heartbeat and that small look of resignation is almost too upsetting to bear.
Despite this being Martin’s movie, a few performances break out of the mix. The characters connected to the actual case like Beyonce Knowles’s mysterious seductress and Roger Rees’ shady casino owner play their parts exactly how you expect them to. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to compliment either. It is the rest of the police force that hold your attention. Kevin Kline’s job is to be the butt of the jokes, that stuck-up boss to Clouseau who takes so much grief and pain, yet the audience never pity the character. Kline struggles to break out of the shadow of past Dreyfus performances, but keeps the movie ticking over, a fine villain to spend some time with. Emily Mortimer is also effective as the nervous secretary with some surprisingly good jokes to her character’s name. It could have been a nothing part, but like Martin, it is her conviction that sells the character to us, making even some of the cruder jokes feel natural. Jean Reno could be the best supporting actor here though, mainly because this is miles away from anything he has done before. Reno plays it straight, the one sane character in this whole messed up situation, struggling to keep his sanity in check, as Clouseau recklessly misses every clue in the book and Dreyfuss piles complication after complication on a straight-forward race to get the Medal of Honour. It is funny watching the man who gave us Leon trapped in the middle of this ball of madness. The joke climaxes in one brilliant scene where Reno is forced to masquerade as a backing dancer to get past security. Steve Martin is also there, playing the joke in a very Steve Martin way, but Reno earns the laugh.
Final Verdict: Funnier than the critics want you to think, mainly thanks to a cast who embrace the madness without holding back.