In the interest of full disclosure, I will cheerfully admit that I don't mind remakes.
After all, theater companies perform the same plays - on Broadway they're given the tonier title of "revivals" - so if a modern director believes he or she can reach a new audience by reworking an older film, so be it.
It might startle a lot of people to learn that Blake Edwards' original The Pink Panther is more than four decades old. I saw it when it came out in 1964, and my main memory is Peter Sellers' atrociously bad, seriously funny, accent.
In the remake, Steve Martin has the Sellers role, and his accent is bad, too, but there aren't nearly as many jokes built around it, which is good because in any comparison between Martin and Sellers, the former will come out on the short end.
For those who never saw Sellers as the bumbling Parisian police inspector, Jacques Clouseau, Martin does a perfectly adequate job in a movie that is never less than mildly humorous and occasionally reaches the heights of hilarity.
Directed by Shawn Levy, who gave the world Martin's Cheaper by the Dozen and Frankie Muniz's Big Fat Liar, the remade The Pink Panther isn't strictly a remake. It borrows elements of the 1964 version and spins them in a different direction.
The Pink Panther is still a huge diamond, and this time it belongs to Yves Gluant, the coach of soccer's Team France. When Gluant falls over during a World Cup soccer match, an investigation reveals a poisoned dart in his neck and his ring finger conspicuously absent the famous gem.
Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline), a candidate for the French Medal of Honor (for the seventh time), is determined to win that award, but to do that, he can make no mistakes in the investigation into Gluant's death and the theft of the diamond.
He decides to bring in the most inept policeman he can find in the provinces - Jacques Clouseau - and publicly turn the investigation over to him. As Clouseau bumbles and fumbles his way through the probe, Dreyfus and his team of crack investigators will be working behind the scenes to nab the real villains.
For insurance, Dreyfus assigns Inspector (second class) Ponton (Jean Reno) to Clouseau as his assistant and to keep an eye on him.
Clouseau, of course, is utterly clueless and a thorough klutz, inadvertently bringing mayhem down upon anyone close to him, especially Dreyfus.
There are old jokes from previous Pink Panther movies and new ones, including two regrettable scenes involving Viagra and flatulence.
There is also the startling realization that Martin has been building his comedy routines on Sellers' work for years, learning from a master, perhaps.
Although Martin manages to shine in The Pink Panther, his co-stars don't fare as well. Beyonce Knowles plays Gluant's pop-star girlfriend, Xania, and she should really stick to singing. The usually solid and assured Kline has an accent that wanders among French, English, and American. And the fine French actor Reno seems embarrassed to be playing the straight man, although there is a hoot of a scene with Clouseau and Ponton pretending to be Xania's backup singers. There may also be a veiled reference to Reno's coming film, The Da Vinci Code, but I doubt that Martin and Len Blum, who co-wrote the screenplay, would be that sneaky.
After their initial success, Edwards and Sellers made at least three Pink Panther sequels. As far as the new movie goes, it's fun, but if Martin likes sequels, Cheaper by the Dozen is a better bet.
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