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Pleasant, playful 'Pink Panther'

Feb. 17, 2006

Remaking a classic can be a dangerous business. Studio executives strive to balance the strict demands of purists and also create a film that can attract a new audience. Although the 2006 version of "The Pink Panther" plays to slapstick instead of wit more than its 1963 predecessor did, it also provides an enjoyable, if unoriginal, diversion.

When a French soccer coach is murdered and the Pink Panther diamond goes missing, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) decides to solve the case from behind the scenes and bring in an incompetent person to vainly stumble around in the public eye. Enter Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin), a clumsy, but well-meaning, policeman. Dreyfus thinks he has picked the perfect fool, but gradually learns there is more to Clouseau than meets the eye.

Almost all of the movie's humor can be boiled down into one of three categories: French accents, James Bond jokes and bumbling buffoonery. I enjoy all of these things. If the title character's struggle to communicate because of his accent is neither funny nor "foony" to you, then your patience will tire quickly. Much of the comedy either is physical or slapstick, though sharp barbs are not entirely absent. Regardless, the humor is diverse enough to make sure everyone in the audience will laugh at least once.

Martin tries to fill Peter Sellers' shoes in the role that made Sellers famous, but doesn't always succeed. Martin skillfully conveys the good intentions of the all too helpless Clouseau. But Martin's Clouseau tries too hard to be funny instead and doesn't let humor occur naturally, as Sellers did. Although very snappy off screen and in other roles, Martin's verbal sparring is not quite as swift as Sellers'.

The movie originally had an August 2005 release date, and its delayed debut seems to have added rust instead of polish. Production values are fairly low, and two styles and qualities of camerawork are noticeably evident.

The supporting cast clicks well with Martin but is underused. The character Ponton (Jean Reno) spends much of the film standing in shock while Clouseau mishandles situation after situation. Kline is overused at the beginning of the film. His long introduction is forced and feels like it was added on later.

The possible romance between Martin and Beyoncé Knowles, who plays pop star Xania, is just creepy. The 60-year-old Martin is more than twice as old as the 20-something singer.

In the end, the minor flaws do little to blemish this amusing film. The absurdity of Clouseau's efforts to nab the crook is just as enticing as the Henry Mancini classic tune that opens the film, and it leads to 93 minutes of laughter.

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