Son of the Pink Panther
Directed by Blake Edwards. Starring Roberto Benigni, Herbert Lom, Robert Davi, Shabana Azmi, Claudia Cardinale.
Never one to let Peter Sellers rest in peace while he could extract another simoleon from the cash cow that is the “Pink Panther” series, writer-director Blake Edwards tries again to find a successor to Sellers -- and scores. (We only hope the first -- poor Ted Wass, who starred in the aptly-titled Curse of the Pink Panther -- has gone to better things.) Benigni isn't the brilliant comic actor Sellers was but this Italian star (also seen in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law and Night on Earth) is a genuine clown whose ability to flail his limbs as if possessed by a Slinky makes him a rich comic lead. Benigni plays the late Inspector Clouseau's illegitimate son, though Edwards has leeched him of Clouseau pére's haughtiness, making him instead a tender bumbler with a poet's soul. Edwards eschews involving this gentle gendarme with the actual Pink Panther, the jewel which inspired the series' best films, for a Sixties-style kidnap caper. It's a tad complicated for the comedy's sake, but with its yacht assault, helicopter getaway, little Third World sheikdom, bloodless shootouts and stuff, it has the feel of an old spy series. You half expect Peter Graves and the Impossible Missions Force to blast in and Lalo Schifrin's TV theme to muscle out Mancini's “Pink Panther” melody. The setting inspires an economy in Edwards' storytelling that recalls his Sixties work: brief scenes in which much is said with a little movement and a few words. Alas, that goes sour in the last half-hour when Edwards succumbs to Eighties Hollywood overkill, concluding with an army attack that's too big, too loud, and inappropriate for Benigni's innocent clown. (This mattered less to the youngsters behind me who tittered throughout.) Worse, Edwards loses sight of what Benigni does best -- full-body physical shtick -- trapping him in long-shot gags that could be anybody, even Ted Wass. Still, within the film are tiny jewels -- an appealing credits sequence with Bobby McFerrin vocalizing Mancini's theme; Benigni impersonating a doctor, each limb slightly out of sync with the rest; Benigni being honored for bravery, trying to control a scabbard with a mind of its own -- which provide precious fragments of the “Pink Panther” past. (Add half a star to the rating if you're under ten years old or a diehard Mission: Impossible fan.)
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