Steve Martin’s remake of “The Pink Panther” is an ill-conceived attempt at creating a hybrid of his past successes. It has the loopy slapstick comedy of something like “The Jerk” or “Three Amigos,” combined with the family-friendly warm-and-fuzzies of, say, “Parenthood” or “Father of the Bride.”
The result is hideous and malformed, and it sweats and wheezes as it lurches through the countryside in search of someone who will laugh at it. Someone? Anyone? Please? I’ll fall down again! I’ll mispronounce some more words! Can’t anyone love a monster?
This is sad business for those of us who love Steve Martin. Last week he hosted “Saturday Night Live,” a show badly in need of repair (as it is every two or three years). Martin didn’t fix it, but he did rejuvenate it, a little, just for one night. He’s a brilliant writer and comedic actor, with an amazing gift for absurdity. When he’s careful, he can spin surreal comic gold.
You see some of that in “The Pink Panther,” in which he steps into Peter Sellers’ shoes — what the hell, Sellers wasn’t using them, being dead and all — to play the legendary Inspector Jacques Clouseau, a character whom it is impossible to describe without using the word “bumbling.” There are certain lines of dialogue that feel vibrantly Martin-esque — he does have co-screenplay credit, under Len Blum (“Meatballs”) — and a few moments that have the mark of inspired lunacy about them. (In a montage of some of Clouseau’s past failures as a cop, there’s a shot of him being pursued through a village square by a herd of goats. What could a police officer have done to make so many goats that angry? I think I’m adding goats to the list of animals that are always funny.)
But the other 95 percent of the film is unbelievable tedium, an endless procession of forced shtick and cartoon-style anarchy that’s been watered down into bland, tasteless froth. The director is Shawn Levy, whose previous comedies, “Just Married” and “Cheaper by the Dozen,” got by on their charm and their human characters. But Levy’s in farce territory now, and that calls for a different set of skills, skills which he does not appear to have. In more than one instance, I noted that the IDEA for a sight gag was much funnier than the execution of it — in other words, that it wasn’t shot and edited properly.
The story has a famed soccer coach being murdered at a game, and a ginormous diamond called the Pink Panther being stolen from his finger at the same time. For reasons I don’t exactly understand, the French Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) intentionally chooses the most idiotic cop he knows to work the case, and that of course is Inspector Clouseau.
Teamed with a more competent cop named Ponton (Jean Reno) and armed with nothing but enthusiasm, Clouseau sets out to find the diamond, uncover the murderer, and bring honor to France. This means surveilling the pop star (Beyonce Knowles) who was the victim’s girlfriend and who may be a suspect. But the important question is, will Beyonce get to sing a song in the movie??!?!??!?!?!?!!
There are people who are outraged by the mere idea of this movie, saying Peter Sellers was a genius whose work shouldn’t be reenacted by others. They may have a point, but look at it this way: If a remake HAD to happen — and it really was inevitable, this being Hollywood — Steve Martin was truly the best option. Like Sellers, he has a knack for both controlled physical lunacy and silly verbal shenanigans. It’s been a while since it’s happened, but when Martin’s material and his support staff (e.g., his director) are good, there’s no one funnier.
You can sense that here. And if nothing else, you can appreciate how fully committed Martin is to the mediocrity he’s dealing with. Someday, perhaps the stars will align and he will once again make us laugh as hard as he did in “The Man with Two Brains” or “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Until then, well, at least he hasn’t given up.
D (1 hr., 32 min.; )