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Chris Hicks: Sacre phew! Nothing about ‘Pink’ is clever

SHARE Chris Hicks: Sacre phew! Nothing about ‘Pink’ is clever

In the original 1964 film "The Pink Panther" there is a moment when Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, is in his office talking to a colleague. Lost in thought, he begins spinning a world globe that is on a large frame on the floor. Then he absent-mindedly leans on it as it's spinning and is thrown to the floor.

The second film in the series, "A Shot in the Dark," released the same year, offers an homage to that moment. This time, Clouseau is again spinning the globe in his office, but when he leans on it, his hand becomes wedged in one of the stand's metal bars.

In Steve Martin's new take on "The Pink Panther," his Clouseau also has an encounter with an even bigger world globe in his office. And this time, when Clouseau spins it, the globe falls off the stand, bounces down a long stairway, keeps rolling right out of the building, wreaking havoc along the way. Later in the film, the globe shows up again, still rolling down the street, still wreaking havoc.

In a way, that gag is a metaphor for Martin's film. There's no room for subtlety. This "Pink Panther" cost $80 million to make, for cryin' out loud. So everything has to be bigger and more obvious and more stupid.

While it's true that Sellers' later "Pink Panther" sequels became gradually more bombastic and silly, each nonetheless contained moments — even lengthy sequences — of genius.

In the fourth film in the series, "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," a string of pantomime gags that occur as Clouseau tries in vain to cross a moat so he can get into a castle are hysterical in a way that hearkens back to Buster Keaton in his prime.

But there is nothing so clever or witty in this 21st-century version.

And at a matinee last Saturday, some 400 people laughed loud and long at what is arguably this new film's big centerpiece joke — as Martin's Clouseau enters a soundproof booth, not realizing the microphones are on, and proceeds to . . . well, let's just say, flatulence ensues.

Oh, there's also a Viagra joke.

And sexual double-entendres.

And did I mention that the audience was loaded with children, and that this PG-rated movie is very specifically being sold to kids? (And according to an L.A. Times story this week, it was actually much dirtier until it was reshot and re-edited!)

And it's a big box-office hit.

Anyway, Steve Martin, who has gradually allowed himself to take part in worse and worse movies (two "Cheaper By the Dozens," "Bringing Down the House"), has no one else to blame for this "Pink" fiasco. He co-wrote it and made these decisions:

Unlike Sellers' full mustache, Martin's is given a goofy look.

He fractures the English language with, as the Monty Pythoners would say, "an outrageous French accent." In the later "Panther" films — not the first two — Sellers also did that. But it was occasional and more subtle, not constant. And for some reason, Martin is also doing Elmer Fudd, substituting a "w" for an "r." (That made me think of Monty Python, too: "Fwee Wodawick.")

Martin also seems to deliberately cause havoc, whereas Sellers' trail of mayhem was always accidental. When Martin parks his car, he backs up and goes forward between two other cars until their bumpers fall off. When he drops a pill into a sink and tries to retrieve it, he deliberately kicks a pipe loose so that water sprays everywhere.

Compare that to Sellers getting out of a car next to a fountain and falling in. Or Sellers sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, watching a girl dive in and inadvertently rolling backward into the water.

Probably the worst element, however, occurs at the end, when Martin's Clouseau figures out the crime and identifies the killer. He suddenly becomes smart!

Sellers' obtuse Clouseau also always solved the crime, but it was an accident. He never figured anything out correctly.

In short, while Sellers inhabited Clouseau, Martin's doing a superficial skit, winking at the camera.

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com