Steve Martin's misguided resurrection earlier this year of Inspector Jacques Clouseau keeps intact the actor's unfortunate streak of insipid remakes. It has been a particularly painful time for those of us who remember when this self-proclaimed wild and crazy guy took artistic risks (Pennies from Heaven), or made movies of exceptionally high quality (Planes, Trains & Automobiles) or actually managed to do both simultaneously (L.A. Story). Sure, dross like the Cheaper by the Dozen and Father of the Bride franchises have done well at the box office, but commercial success is exactly what these almost perversely mediocre pictures were designed to accomplish. For Martin's recent movie work, it's hard not to choke on the Mephistophelean whiff of Hollywood product.
And if those films hinted at a Faustian bargain, then there's no telling what evil drove Martin to try filling the impossibly big shoes of Peter Sellers. As the bumbling but arrogant French police inspector Clouseau in 1964's The Pink Panther, Sellers transformed a secondary character into a classic comic creation that would go on to inspire a slew of Blake Edwards-directed comedies.
Surely, you might say, the inevitable comparisons between old and new would doom any actor trying to revive the character that Peter Sellers indelibly made his own.
And, surely, you'd be right.
In this often grating version, Clouseau is tapped to investigate the murder of a French soccer coach (Jason Statham) and the disappearance of the coach's famed "Pink Panther" diamond. Clouseau has been selected by Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline in the Herbert Lom role) for the high-profile assignment because it is assumed he will fail. The snooty chief inspector anticipates that Clouseau will bungle the case, thereby setting the stage for Dreyfus to swoop in, solve the case and earn the Medal of Honor for his crime-fighting skills.
Dreyfus' plan is moronic, but it's not out of place in a surprisingly sophomoric script by Martin and Len Blum. Clouseau and his unflappable sidekick Ponton (the always dependable Jean Reno) stumble their way through a plot that chiefly serves as an excuse for stale gags about farts, funny accents, Viagra, giant runaway globes, crashing chandeliers and trying to parallel park silly little cars.
Fingers are slammed in doors. Bicyclists are sent hurtling through the air. Genitals are electrocuted. Stuff catches fire. Director Shawn Levy, who helmed the Cheaper by the Dozen flicks, keeps the gags flying fast and furious, but most collapse quicker than a failed soufflé.
Martin tries hard to sell the pratfalls, but this exercise is as unnecessary as it is painful to watch. Along the way, this mess tarnishes a talented cast that includes Beyoncé Knowles (nifty eye candy, but barely credible even as an international pop singer), Emily Mortimer, Kristin Chenoweth and, in an unbilled cameo, Clive Owen as a James Bond knockoff.
The most successful shtick here earns laughs for its sheer relentlessness. Clouseau's futile attempt to affect an American accent ("I want to buy a hamburger!") gets mileage from its extended play. You might want to fast-forward to that scene.
Despite the stale comedy, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is of superb quality. The images are sharp and spotless, the colors are rich and the blacks are perfect. With the noted exception of the movie's content, there are no noticeable defects in the caliber of picture.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is first-rate, although it takes minimal advantage of surround sound possibilities. Audio tracks and subtitles are available in English and French.
I'll hand one thing to the makers of this special edition DVD: It takes more than a bad movie to deter them from pulling out all the stops. Extras are plentiful here, with Pink Panther director Shawn Levy front and center for most of them.
Levy proves himself to be a likeable and engaging talker in his director's commentary track, but his unbridled self-satisfaction can be difficult to swallow. We learn, for instance, that the "I want to buy a hamburger" scene is "beloved." Beloved?!? OK, maybe it's expecting too much to hear a warts-and-all assessment of the movie, but Levy's glowing commentary would lead you to think the guy just earned the Nobel Peace Prize for teaching the whole world how to laugh.
Eleven deleted scenes are included, all of which offer optional commentary by Levy. The director's explanations are interesting and provide insight into the choices that a filmmaker must make during the editing process. Again, however, Levy's self-appreciation borders on the pathological; he gloats over the film's opening soccer sequence and a deleted gag in which Clouseau destroys an ornate arch in Dreyfus' office.
Still, one deleted scene actually turns out to be funnier than much of what made the final cut. In "Clouseau Has a Bad Flight," the hapless policeman weathers an airline flight that is very much in the absurdist spirit of Airplane! or The Naked Gun series. Levy explains that the sequence was omitted because its humor stemmed not from Clouseau's incompetence, but from the world around him being crazy.
The disc boasts three featurettes. The first, Cracking the Case, is a 22-minute overview of the movie that interweaves behind-the-scenes segments with a slew of interviews. It's not bad, as these things go, an above-average promotional video.
Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, An Animated Trip features animator Bob Kurtz and colleagues discussing how they created The Pink Panther's animated – and thoroughly engaging (if only the movie had been, too) -- opening credits sequence.
Deconstruction of the Panther: Creating the Palace Scene details what went into filming the picture's climax The 10-minute sequence, which was shot on location at the Sorbonne, highlights the impressive work of The Pink Panther's production designer, costumer and stunt coordinator. Unfortunately, it also points out the limitations of craftsmanship when the story being told is hardly worth the effort.
Three clips dubbed Sleuth-Cams are relatively interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses of moviemaking. In the five-minute "Killer Press Conference," six-minute, 45-second "Soccer Set-up" and seven-minute "Curtain Call," we see (sans commentary) an uninterrupted shooting of key scenes in the movie. Levy does an admirable job juggling the many aspects of a big-time production, but to what end?
The lovely Beyoncé takes center stage in two bonus features. The first is a music video for "Check on It," a so-so hip-hop track from the movie. Mildly more interesting is her "exclusive" performance of "A Woman Like Me" during the film's climactic sequence at the President's Ball. The clip has an optional commentary by Levy, who does the customary gushing over the performer.
Among the most visually lush extras is an alternate opening title sequence. Before Kurtz & Friends landed the task of creating the cartoon that opens the movie, Nexus Productions devised a computer-generated Pink Panther for an opening credits sequence that, while gorgeous, proved to be tonally out of step with the rest of the movie. The clip includes optional commentary by Levy.
There is a fair share of throwaway material, too. Think Pink is, um, well, a commercial for Sweet 'n Low featuring the cartoon Pink Panther. Previews on the disc include: Click, Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Benchwarmers, Monster House, Open Season, The Legend of Zorro, The Pink Panther Film Collection, The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection and The Premiere Frank Capra DVD Collection.
If only the main attraction here was as entertaining as some of the features included – but, alas, it was not meant to be. And in the comfort of your home, the lumpy ineptness of The Pink Panther becomes all the more apparent. While there are some scattered laughs along the way, the sporadic chuckle doesn't warrant more than a rental -- if even that.