- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Henry Mancini’s buoyant “Pink Panther” theme still makes our toes tap more than 40 years after its debut. The rest of the “Pink Panther” legacy, as resurrected in the oft-delayed Steve Martin vehicle out today, is grayer than its star’s signature locks.

Peter Sellers cemented his comic icon status with his “Pink Panther” features, all under the watchful eye of director Blake Edwards.

For the latest “Pink” makeover, we have “Cheaper by the Dozen’s” Shawn Levy behind the camera.

The talent dropoff is considerable, yet “The Pink Panther” isn’t the “Ishtar”-sized disaster we had every right to expect. Credit Mr. Martin and his French accent: You may never say the word “hamburger” again without recalling him mangling it beyond recognition.

Mr. Martin doesn’t so much ape Mr. Sellers as carry on his buffoonish persona. His Inspector Clouseau is just as foolhardy, although Mr. Martin is too instinctively bright to carry off the charade. That incongruity actually helps when it’s time to solve the crime in question, which once more revolves around a Pink Panther diamond.

The bauble is inexplicably worn by French soccer coach Yves Gluant (Jason Statham), who is bumped off in the opening moments by a deadly dart.

Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, taking over for Herbert Lom) hires an ineffective officer named Jacques Clouseau (Mr. Martin) to oversee the case in hope that Clouseau will make him look good by comparison.

That’s a pretty thin slice of motivation for both Dreyfus and the film itself, but we’re here to watch Clouseau bumble his way to finding the killer, not to puzzle over an Agatha Christie mystery.

The bumbles in question range from the inspired — Clouseau breaks into a party in a costume made from the buildings’s wallpaper pattern — to the pathetic.

The worst offense comes when Clouseau loses his Viagra pill down the sink just as he is about to bed a beautiful pop star. What follows could be a primer on how not to stage slapstick comedy. (It also does not belong in a rare PG-rated film.)

A coterie of stars orbits around Clouseau, including Beyonce Knowles and an unbilled actor who came up short in the James Bond sweepstakes. Mr. Kline acquits himself nicely, but the Oscar winner could deliver a dead-on French accent in his sleep.

Mr. Martin’s gift for physical humor hasn’t abandoned him, but he can’t overcome the film’s hopscotch pacing. We’re dragged from one slapstick set piece to another, and Mr. Levy’s knack for telegraphing his gags remains unrivaled.

Franchises are funny things, easily sidetracked by poor casting choices or evolving societal tastes. “The Pink Panther” barely survived attempts at resurrection by both Ted Wass (“Soap”) and Roberto Benigni, but our appetite for broad farce remains unsatiated.

Too bad Mr. Martin didn’t have someone like Mr. Edwards to help him fall on his face, in all the right ways, for the latest “Pink” pratfalls.

**

TITLE: “The Pink Panther”

RATING: PG (Slapstick violence and suggestive humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Shawn Levy. Screenplay by Len Blum and Steve Martin.

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.com/

movies/thepinkpanther/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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