Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) relates this tale of murder and intrigue. It's all to do with an incident which happened while he was attending an important football match in Paris: just as a crucial goal was scored the winning team ran towards each other in a huddle to celebrate, but suddenly it was clear there was something wrong as the coach collapsed. Not only was he dead from a poisoned dart in the neck, but his ring, the priceless Pink Panther diamond, was gone. Dreyfus, desperate for that Medal of Honour, decided on a novel way of solving the case; he would recruit France's most incompetent policeman, promote him to Inspector and set him on the suspects while Dreyfus did all the serious detective work himself in the background, choosing his moment to step in and take all the glory. And so Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) arrived on the scene...
Inspector Clouseau was such an icon of film comedy that in the remake-obsessed Hollywood of the 2000s it was natural that he be brought back eventually. Peter Sellers was indelibly associated with the role, indeed it was possibly the most celebrated thing he ever did, so another actor was needed with a strong enough style to, if not eclipse Sellers, then at least do the role justice. Step forward the remake-obsessed Martin, the predictable choice (after a bunch of other candidates had been rejected, including - bizarrely - Chris Tucker) and he brings the appropriate element of straight faced farce to the film, as well as co-writing the script with Len Blum.
The film has been decked out with stars doing funny accents, except for Jean Reno who plays Clouseau's police partner Gilbert Ponton: his accent is his own, and he was presumably cast to allay any accusations of anti-French sentiment. As the coach's pop star girlfriend, Beyoncé Knowles is cast as, well, Beyoncé Knowles, not a part that particularly stretches her talents, but she's there for decoration and not thespian acrobatics. Emily Mortimer makes a nice impression as Clouseau's assistant Nicole, and there are cameos for Jason Statham and Clive Owen (as a sort of James Bond send up). As for the plot, is anyone really concentrating on that? If you want to see this, you'll be wanting the gags, and they fly thick and fast, mostly inclined towards the obvious.
It's no secret that this Pink Panther had a troubled history, with extensive re-shooting and many delays before it was finally brought to the public (but not the critics). There's a tendency to look back with rose-tinted spectacles on the Sellers movies, and in A Shot in the Dark he delivered one of the best performances of his career, but come the seventies the sequels grew more lazy, with Sellers relying on increasingly tired slapstick to get through yet another instalment. And don't forget that after he passed away, director Blake Edwards tried to keep the series going with two embarrassing examples that were little more than old clips of his star padded out to feature length. With this in mind, this incarnation of The Pink Panther doesn't look so bad - it certainly doesn't look great, but it's not as bad as it could have been, and wasn't made for audiences who fondly remembered Sellers anyway. I laughed about three times ("YOU, sir, are the idiom!"), which is three times more than I was expecting. Music by Christophe Beck, which relies heavily on Henry Mancini's classic theme.
[The Sony DVD's special features include a commentary with the director, various featurettes, deleted scenes, an alternate opening, music videos and more.]