There was a time when Steve Martin’s idiot character was truly original and funny. Twenty-five years ago when he made films like The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid Martin was the jackass du jour, an actor who could deftly mix slapstick with pathos and transcend the genre. Think The Three Stooges mixed with Moliere.
In the eighties and nineties his films took on a higher, more sophisticated tone. Recently, however, his work has been more commercial, and quite uneven. Cheaper By the Dozen and Bringing Down the House made big cash and re-established him as a box office draw but will do nothing for his comic legacy.
Which brings us to The Pink Panther.
Forty-two years ago Peter Sellers created one of the screen’s most indelible comic characters, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Since then there have been several attempts to recreate the Seller’s magic—Alan Arkin and Roberto Benigni have both tried and failed—with the most recent being Steve Martin.
Martin gives it his all but never rises above mimicking Peter Sellers. As Martin—using an accent reminiscent of a French Elmer Fudd—pratfalls his way through this caper film I was constantly reminded of other, better movies. Of course the ghost of Peter Sellers looms large, but also Martin’s earlier work. A scene with Martin and Jean Reno as unlikely bedmates made me long for the similar and funnier scene with John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A dance interlude reminded me of Martin’s famous dance with Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live. In short, nothing in this film feels original.
The Pink Panther has a couple of laughs, but I’d recommend sticking to the real deal and checking out the recent Pink Panther DVD box set featuring Peter Sellers.