Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther actually refers to an enormous pink diamond with a flaw in the shape of a panther, and not to Inspector Jacques Clouseau, but because of the iconic pink panther's appearance in the animated opening credits, along with the all too familiar theme by Henry Mancini, it's all too easy to associate one with the other.

Of course, many Pink Panther / Jacques Clouseau movies did deal with the pink diamond, but there are other tales weaved into the Clouseau mythos that did not. Peter Sellers owned the Clouseau role, and it is naturally a pair of big boots to fill. But I'm glad to say that Steve Martin has taken this role on bravely, and brought a new, more in-your-face slapstick dimension to Clouseau. Purists might call it blasphemy, but for the new generation, it might serve as a springboard introduction to the Sellers' version.

This movie is set early in Clouseau's career as an Inspector, prior to the first Sellers movie. It's an updated retelling however, with things like the Internet and Viagra worked into the plot. And the plot is extremely simple - the French football coach gets assassinated during a football game, and his Pink Panther diamond goes missing. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) deliberately assigns police idiot Clouseau to the case, while secretly working behind the scenes to try and track the case himself, for the medal of honour.

So we follow Clouseau and his assistant Ponton (a clean shaven Jean Reno) as they go about their investigations, bringing them to casinos, recording studios, football changing rooms, and even to New York. There are plenty of situational comedy, slapstick, and loads of subtle sexual innuendo wordplay, playing up on Clouseau's mispronunciation and double takes. But certain scenes do stretch it a bit and somehow could be omitted, like the part where he engages an American speech coach.

What made this movie enjoyable, is the casting. Steve Martin brought a sense of familiarity, and he partners Jean Reno really well. The chemistry between the two men made this movie watchable, as we see Reno breezing through this with a deliberate straight face. Match Point fans might be glad to see Emily Mortimer here as Clouseau's bespectacled secretary, and it seemed that she was there as an unexpected love interest, as well as to further certain gross humour from the start.

Beyonce Knowles stars as a singer (what else?) and she can add this role to her resume for being featured in another detective/spy franchise (the other being Mike Myers' Austin Powers). Sadly, she doesn't do much here except pout, dress sexy, perform sexy, and sing, compared to her much meatier role as Foxy Cleopatra.

But the real gem in this movie, is that of Clive Owen's appearance. Watch out for that casino scene, where he appears in a tuxedo, and in a role that gives everyone a glimpse of what he can do as 007. That suaveness, that campy drink made fun of, and easily discovered as being in her Majesty's secret service. Sadly, it's a role that's not to be, but here, he hams it up as 006 (you must listen closely to Clouseau's follow up comment on that!). It's a real blast!

Take note too of the mini Smart car. I discovered its wide existence in Europe about two years back, and have often marvelled at the thought if I could squeeze comfortably into its tiny interior. It'll also make an appearance in Summer's anticipated The Da Vinci Code, so I wonder if one day this vehicle will make it to our shores here.

Alas, this film is (drumroll please) censored at a point. And that's very disappointing. I thought the whole dance sequence with Clouseau and Ponton could have contributed to more laughs. I was laughing, then stopped when the music jerked, obvious that a censor's scissors had made its effect felt. It was a bad cut, and perhaps one which was unnecessary even to keep it within PG levels.

The storyline is predictable and it's nothing to shout about. But to chase away long workday blues, then give The Pink Panther a watch, You just might be tempted to get your hands on the original series, just to see Clouseau work his magic in his other adventures.

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