Movie Review: The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther Strikes Again … with a New Look!

Steve Martin is Inspector Jacques Clouseau, a man who strikes fear into the hearts of criminals, bystanders, his colleagues – and anyone else who happens to be in his vicinity. Because the clumsy Clouseau is so accident-prone he tends to make mayhem out of the simplest encounter with everyone and everything.

Martin, of course, is reprising the role made famous by the incomparable Peter Sellers, who played Clouseau in no less than five Pink Panther films throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Considering this legacy, Martin has some large shoes to fill, or more accurately, some squeaky and pointy ones. He does an admirable job.

In this version, when the acclaimed coach of the French soccer team is killed by a poison dart before thousands of adoring fans, and his legendary Pink Panther diamond ring disappears, the case becomes a national obsession. The crafty Chief Inspector Dreyfus (drolly portrayed by Kevin Kline) promotes Clouseau from an obscure provincial post to head the case, assuming the clownish Clouseau will fail and he, Dreyfus, will be hailed a hero when he solves the crime. To keep tabs on him, Dreyfus assigns Clouseau a partner, the stoic gendarme Ponton (French star Jean Reno), to report back on their “progress.”  Naturally, things do not go as Dreyfus plans.

With his gift for physical comedy, Steve Martin is an excellent choice to play the defective detective, and is very funny at the broad slapstick the role requires, whether he’s parking his comically small “Smart Car,” admiring a vase, or getting physically muddled up with his attractive secretary, Nicole (the enchanting Emily Mortimer). The film also stars the stunning singer Beyoncé Knowles as the murdered soccer coach’s estranged wife.

My 7-year-old daughter thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and she and I had some good belly laughs watching Clouseau wreck havoc on everyone around him. However, parents should be aware that there are sexual  innuendoes (as there were in the original Panther films) and some blatantly suggestive physical gymnastics between Clouseau and Nicole that will be picked up by perceptive 9-year-olds. (Mercifully, the double meaning of these antics seemed to pass over my daughter’s head, but won’t in another year or so.) The only bone I have to pick with Martin concerns his screenwriting, for which he shares credit with Len Blum. Despite all of Clouseau’s obtuse bungling, suddenly at the end of the picture, he manifests heretofore unknown powers of observation and deduction to solve the crime! C’est incroyable! But this inconsistency did not seem to bother my daughter and probably won’t bother your kids either, as long as they are amused.

Rated PG for “occasional crude and suggestive humor and language.” The movie opens Feb. 10.

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– Philip Murphy