In every respect, without a Clou
FOR ME, there’s only one Inspector Jacques Clouseau – Peter Sellers. Sellers was Clouseau and, in this, the ninth film in The Pink Panther series, Steve Martin is merely playing Clouseau, and there’s a big difference.
Suffering from misguided delusions of grandeur, Martin elected to co-write and star in this new version of The Pink Panther, the second film in which an actor has dared to try and match Sellers’ comedic talents as the unforgettable Inspector Jacques Clouseau. The original 1964 film only featured Clouseau in a supporting role, with the majority of the film spent on the efforts of the thief (Niven) to snatch the priceless Pink Panther jewel. However, it became immediately obvious that the real prize was Peter Sellers’ performance as the bumbling French police officer with incredible confidence and unbelievable incompetence. The names of Peter Sellers and Jacques Clouseau became synonymous from then on, with Sellers returning to the role several times before his death in 1980.
Despite his own comic credentials, Martin’s performance is doomed from the start. Sellers’ particular brand of comic genius was evident in every frame of his Clouseau pictures and, try as he might, Martin is never able to make the role his own – he’s just too American.
The basic storyline is that a French soccer coach (Statham) is murdered during a championship game and his ring, set with the priceless Pink Panther diamond, vanishes. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kline) decides to put a moron in charge of the investigation, so that he can quietly catch the culprit himself. Dreyfus chooses Clouseau, unaware that this imbecilic officer will embarrass him in ways he never dreamed possible. He is momentarily smitten with the dead man’s girlfriend, Xania (Knowles), but eventually realises his heart belongs to his secretary (Mortimer).
The first 45 minutes simply establish the characters: Beyonce Knowles as Xania, a pop star who dated the murdered soccer coach, and Jean Reno, a fine French actor, who anchors the film as Clouseau’s sidekick, Gendarme Gilbert Ponton. His quiet, straight-man role adds depth, keeping the necessary undercurrent of pathos throughout the film, a quality that Sellers created all by himself. Ponton steals the film with his deadpan demeanour. A cameo by Clive Owen as Agent 006 proves that he would have made a great James Bond, had he not taken himself out of the running.
It was Seller’s outrageous accent and mannerisms that made him the star. Even though you still get the animated Pink Panther and Henry Mancini’s theme song, without Sellers, Clouseau doesn’t work. He’s even gained a lisp and, tragically, lost his Asian manservant Kato!
Instead of putting the accent on comedy, Martin and director Shawn Levy put all their comedy into an accent, the assumption being that 95 minutes of someone talking ‘lark zees’ is enough to make a movie. But, mon dieu, they couldn’t be more wrong. The appalling French accents are excruciating, even to a non-French speaking viewer.
This new movie is an uncomfortable attempt to tap into the essence of the classic Panther films, while updating it for modern audiences, who might not know Inspector Clouseau from Inspector Morse.
Sellers’ Clouseau was a standoffish moron through and through, and the fun was in watching how he repeatedly stumbled into solving the mysteries; here, Martin’s just stumbling.