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This 'Panther' needs to be given the pink slip

Steve Martin ties himself into a Gordian knot trying to play Inspector Clouseau in Shawn Levy's The Pink Panther. He's the latest gifted comic actor to pale to near-invisibility before the memory of Peter Sellers, who created the French detective whose only genius is for idiocy. Hardly anyone noticed that the great Alan Arkin played the title role of Bud Yorkin's Inspector Clouseau (1968). And in 1983, when the director of all Sellers' Clouseau movies, Blake Edwards, introduced a promising light comedian named Ted Wass as Clouseau's American successor, the title proved all too prescient - The Curse of the Pink Panther. Wass quickly went into television acting and directing.

In 2006, the curse of the Pink Panther still lives. Martin's Clouseau starts out as an inept provincial gendarme. But Chief Inspector Dreyfuss of the National Police (Kevin Kline) abruptly raises him to inspector and assigns him a huge case: the murder of Team France's head soccer coach and the theft of his Pink Panther diamond ring. Dreyfuss hungers for his country's Medal of Honor and thinks that Clouseau will deflect media attention from his office until he safely solves the crime with a crack secret unit. Of course, Dreyfuss doesn't realize that Clouseau's wrong-way salvos often land on target. If only the same could be said of Martin's characterization of Clouseau.

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The Pink Panther (MGM/Columbia) Starring Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer and Beyonce Knowles. Directed by Shawn Levy. Rated PG. Time 90 minutes.


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