The Curse of Blake Edwards

For those of you who only read the first sentence of a movie review to find out whether the critic liked a film or not: RUN DON'T WALK TO SEE SON OF THE PINK PANTHER, THE LAFF RIOT OF THE SUMMER!

For the rest of you: stay away at all costs. Do not be lulled by nostalgic memories of Inspector Clouseau's malapropisms; do not be fooled by slick print or TV ads; do not let your kids talk you into it. Roberto Benigni struggles mightily in the lead, but even if Peter Sellers himself had risen from the grave to take the part, he couldn't make this turkey fly. This is easily the worst movie of the year, a blatant, cynical attempt to turn a quick buck by invoking the name of one of the most popular film comedy series of all time.

The worst part is, it isn't even writer-director Blake Edwards's first greedheaded rape of the Pink Panther legacy (of which he speaks ever-so-reverently in interviews even as he lines his pockets at its expense). Trail of the Pink Panther, patched together two years after Sellers's death in 1980, combined previously unseen footage of Sellers as Inspector Clouseau with a shabby story about a TV reporter collecting videotaped reminiscences of the bumbling detective. Audiences who had grown to love the character Roger Ebert once called "an absolute original, a crazed spirit set aside from mundane humanity, a nut without a country," emerged from theaters shaking their heads in disappointment, shocked by the brazenness of Edwards's cheap hustle.

But Edwards, possibly the most overrated director of his generation, was at the top of his game, riding high on the success of 10 and Victor/Victoria. Few were willing to question the motives of the man who had spun gold out of Bo Derek's cornrows. After Victor/Victoria, Edwards was honored with a retrospective at the Cannes Film Festival and accorded the French Legion of Honor for his lifetime contribution to the arts, more evidence (as if any were needed) of that country's perverse cinematic predilections.

With the release of Curse of the Pink Panther in 1983, another pathetic con job "starring" nonentity Ted Wass, Edwards tumbled headlong into the abyss of motion picture hell, sullying his own previously sterling reputation (however undeserved) with this first of a series of dogs. These subsequent flops included The Man Who Loved Women (a thickheaded remake of a Truffaut classic that should have had the French clamoring for the return of their awards), Micki & Maude (Edwards's notion: if 10 had Dudley Moore in it and made a fortune, maybe he'll turn this rancid exercise into a hit as well), and -- Fine Mess (a prophetically named transparent attempt to cash in on Cheers star Ted Danson's popularity by pairing him with insufferable pseudo-comedian Howie Mandel, a man whose misguided pandering instincts rival Edwards's own).

This new movie is equally depressing. Herbert Lom is long-suffering Commissioner Dreyfus; Claudia Cardinale (who costarred in the original The Pink Panther in 1964 and whose looks have held up a lot better than her acting ability) is Maria Gambrelli, Clouseau, Jr.'s mother; Burt Kwouk reprises his role as loyal manservant Cato; Graham Stark returns as trusted Clouseau costumer Dr. Balls. They should all be ashamed for lending their names to this travesty.

Robert Davi, who has become Hollywood's favorite generic ethnic heavy A a Colombian drug lord one week, an Italian Mafioso the next A deals with the embarrassment of appearing in this movie in an unusual way. He sleepwalks through his role as the ruthless kidnapper who ransoms the daughter of a King Hussein-like Middle Eastern dictator. Davi's performance broaches new levels of listlessness. It's as if he knows he's in a bomb from the get-go and has decided to conserve all his creative energy for his next film.

You might think that Roberto Benigni, the Italian-born comedic actor and star of that country's all-time top-grossing film, Johnny Stecchino, would figure prominently in the debacle; he was, after all, the one tapped to fill Sellers's oversized paw prints in the part of Jacques Clouseau II. Surprisingly, Benigni is one of the least culpable cast members. Unlike Davi, he tries hard to breathe some life into this collapsing lung of a movie. He's no Sellers (who is?) but he's no Howie Mandel, either. Benigni has just enough doltish charm, aptitude for physical humor, and misguided zeal to do an acceptable impression of Clouseau, Jr. Unfortunately, the insipid screenplay by Edwards and the team of Madeline and Steve Sunshine (writers/producers of TV's execrable Webster, among other dubious distinctions) binds and muzzles Benigni with lazy setups and hackneyed routines; it's hard to imagine Chaplin getting a laugh with material this uninspired.

If all of the above isn't enough to convince you not to see the damnable thing, please heed this one last piece of advice: arrive on time. The highlight of the entire film is the opening credit sequence featuring Henry Mancini's familiar theme interpreted a cappella by the amazing Bobby McFerrin over computer-generated, animated Pink Panther cartoon antics combined with live action a la Roger Rabbit. It's small consolation for the ninety minutes of uninterrupted boredom that follow, but at least it's something.

 
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