Remake ignores original, loosely impersonates lesser sequels

With older movies being remade by Hollywood at a record rate, one might wonder: Was it really necessary to remake? What changes have been made? How does it compare to the original?

This week we compare “The Pink Panther,” the original film of 1963 and its sequels, compared to the newest version from 2006.

The story

While the argument’s been made that the new version is just another entry in the series or could even be considered a prequel, the fact is that the movie ignores or rewrites all the previous films’ history and starts its own. It’s therefore a remake of the concept and characters, but not the original story.

The new plot is fairly simple. Inept policeman Jacques Clouseau is assigned to find out who stole the Pink Panther diamond _” on the huge ring of a soccer player _” and killed its owner in the middle of a crowded stadium, but he’s only put in charge to divert media attention from the real investigation headed by Chief Inspector Dreyfus. It’s full of telegraphed slapstick and is amusing to a degree, but doesn’t seem like it ever tries to be anything more.

The original “Pink Panther” was a pure, classical farce. It was a fairly complex heist movie in an Italian ski lodge, with the bumbling (but not inept) Clouseau. His wife Simone is having an affair with a master jewel thief called the Phantom. The Phantom’s nephew George arrives to put the moves on Simone as well, while the Phantom is after a Princess who has the Pink Panther diamond _” larger than the new version and on a royal necklace _” that her newly reformed country claims is theirs. And so on. Clouseau wasn’t even the focus, but just another player. While the original Pink Panther sequels would later degenerate into simple slapstick, at least it had a more dignified beginning.

Inspector Clouseau

The remake puts veteran comedian Steve Martin in the role Peter Sellers made famous. Martin plays a bumbling idiot better than most, but he plays to the audience too much, exaggerating his moves and expression as if to beat the audience over the head with the thought that what he’s doing is supposed to be funny. Although the over-the-top French accent Martin uses became part of the character, in the original movie and its first sequel, “A Shot in the Dark,” Clouseau spoke with a normal French accent and wasn’t portrayed as such an incompetent. Only in the ’70s sequels did the character degenerate into more of a caricature. Every word and action of Martin’s Clouseau is a few notches over the top. Peter Sellers played the role more-or-less straight, in the original especially, and the result is a humor that probably doesn’t play as well to children or the mainstream audience, but stands the test of time a lot better.

Chief Inspector Dreyfus

Although Dreyfus was not in the original movie, he became a key character in later installments as Clouseau’s commander, and was always paying for Clouseau’s antics one way or another. Kevin Kline takes on the role originally played by Herbert Lom, and it’s interesting to note that Kline looks much more like the original Clouseau than Steve Martin does. The roles should have been reversed; Martin could easily play the correct amount of smoldering impatience as the chief, and Kline would have kept the bumbling performance in check. If only that were so. As it is, Kline does the job, but doesn’t really bring anything interesting to the role.

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While the original was a farce and the remake is slapstick, they both have moments of absurdity that are out of place. The original’s ending featured a pursuit from a costume ball, with gorilla and other costumes being worn during the chase, even while driving convertible sports cars. The new movie has a very odd sequence with an uncredited Clive Owen as a super agent who defeats a room of bad guys and quickly disappears, giving credit to Clouseau for the heroics. And then at the end, when Clouseau reveals his knowledge of the case, it is such an absurd “deus ex machina” that it’s almost funny. Actually, it would be very funny if the movie was filled with a lot more absurd humor, but as it is, these scenes just stand out too much. Anyway, the absurd has to be played straight to be funny.

The verdict

It’s a shame that the original movie had so many uninspired sequels, as it’s painfully clear the new film is based on someone’s foggy memories of those movies, rather than the clever original. So, true remake or not, it doesn’t really matter; the new “Pink Panther” is a movie that delivers a few chuckles and not much else.