The Fine Art of Bumbling

In a strange case of Hollywood pre-release hype gone wrong,
Steve Martin’s anxiously awaited role as the loveably bumbling
Inspector Clouseau first appeared lamely, in that annoying “turn
off your cell phones” trailer featuring the nouveau Clouseau as a
disruptive, joy-buzzered moviegoer. Happily, early fears are
unfounded, and Martin’s Clouseau bumbles beautifully in the fairly
laugh-riotous 21st version of The Pink Panther.

The franchise that Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers built has
returned to the screen, some 30 years later. While purists may well
scoff and others will wonder why Hollywood continues ravaging old
ideas instead of creating new ones, the rest of us are liable to
have a shameless good time. Most importantly, Martin seems ripe for
the job, with his flair for physical comedy and fearless embrace of
comic idiocy. Martin’s mangled French accent may set back
Franco-American relations, but he was the comedian who, during his
old stand-up days, used to say, “Oh, those French — they have a
different word for everything.”

Hopes are raised from the outset, as the classic format of a
cartoon unfolds during opening credits, accompanied by Henry
Mancini’s renewably hip big-band theme song (from the age when jazz
was fair game in Hollywood). There is a plot involved, concerning a
loathsome soccer coach who is murdered in the film’s prelude, and
his garish “pink panther” ring has apparently been pilfered.
Really, though, the storyline is just a loose premise around which
to fling gags — sight gags, linguistic gags, and requisite
innuendos. (“Stop browbeating her,” Clouseau tells his assistant,
played by actual Frenchman Jean Reno. “Can’t you see she’s sexy?”)
Speaking of sexy, Martin and his co-writer finagle Beyoncé Knowles
into the script, as a girlfriend, temporary suspect, and soulful

The movie’s spotlight really goes to Martin’s Clouseau, which
Sellers might be admiring from his grave. When this Clouseau chews
and spits out language, romps around in his beret and flood-style
pants, or when he launches into a one-man “good cop/bad cop”
routine in the interrogation room, the old Pink magic seems to have
returned, at least in small, next-best-thing doses.


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