February has never been a good month for movies, but this year the pickings seem awfully, well… awful. Last weekend’s three major studio releases included a remake of a classic ’60s comedy about a bumbling, bungling inspector; yet another installment in the Harrison Ford “My Family’s Been Kidnapped and I Will Do What it Takes to Save Them!” canon (watch for the boxed set, coming soon!); and the third installment in a series that proves you can’t cheat Death, so you might as well die quickly the first time around rather than go through the horrific Rube Goldberg machinations that await you. (There was also an animated movie about a curious monkey, but my curiosity peaked and then quickly waned while watching the coming attractions.) So many lousy options, but only time for one. Which would you pick?
If you chose The Pink Panther, you chose… wisely? Correctly? Let’s just say you made a choice. And hopefully that choice paid off for you, since you likely paid for your choice in cash.
It didn’t pay off for me. While I can’t say I fully despised the film, I also can’t say it made for an unforgettable afternoon at the movies. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point behind the remake other than to give Steve Martin another potential franchise for his golden years. The original 1963 Pink Panther elevated Peter Sellers — originator of the English-mangling, accident-prone, supremely idiotic Inspector Jacques Clouseau — to American stardom. An instinctive, nuanced comic actor, Sellers created a screen legend in Clouseau, carrying the torch through four more films of varying quality.
Ready to pounce: Martin
Steve Martin is, without question, an equally gifted comic actor, but his approach to farce is so broad, you’d think he were channeling a past life as a giant neon billboard. Martin has extreme physicality down to a science (as did Sellers), and his Clouseau rides roughshod over English with a vengeance (the word “hamburger” will never sound the same). But Martin never truly loses himself — or us — in the character. The movie is little more than a marathon of Steve Martin shtick, outsized and outmoded.
Oddly, The Pink Panther works best when it’s barely trying — a throwaway gag involving magnifying goggles is so subtle, so indelibly rich, you wonder how it snuck into this slapstick-fest. Another sight gag, involving camouflaged body suits, might have been lifted from the original Panther films — it’s a dandy of a routine, and provides one of the of movie’s few spontaneous bursts of genuine comedy.
The Pink Panther is encumbered by a plot that’s as heavy as lead, and yet carries no weight, and fumble-fingered direction by Shawn Levy that is as workman-like and flat as it is formulaic.
The character of Clouseau is as arrogant and ego-centric as ever. But the remake also gives the French inspector a tiny dash of perceptible intellect — he has a keen understanding of how to use the Internet, for instance. The self-awareness doesn’t suit the character. And while Martin doesn’t embarrass himself, nor does he make us forget any of the classic Sellers moments: the stint on parallel bars, the conversation with a stranger about a dog (“Your dog, does ‘e bite?”), the accidental smashing up of a room with a mace.
Martin is supported in his antics by Kevin Kline — who himself might have made a sterling Clouseau — as the put-upon and eventually battered beyond belief Chief Inspector Dreyfus; effervescent Emily Mortimer as Clouseau’s charming secretary; and Jean Reno as Clouseau’s crime-solving partner, Ponton. The dour-faced Reno looks a little bewildered over his involvement in this madness, but he finally manages to click in the last few minutes and gamely play along. Pop star Beyonce is so vacant in her role as — what else? — a pop star under suspicion for stealing the fabled Pink Panther diamond, that she might as well be playing an invisible woman.
The most enjoyable moments arrive during the credits, animated in classic style and set to the famed theme by Henry Mancini. It’s impossible not to walk out humming that sly little Mancini masterpiece.
If nothing else, The Pink Panther revives your interest in the originals, which have been reissued in a boxed set that is mysteriously lacking the third film in the series, 1975′s Return of the Pink Panther. It also revives your interest in Martin’s enjoyably lunatic early work — The Jerk, All of Me, The Man with Two Brains. But what it fails to do is make you laugh so hard your sides ache and your eyes tear. Because when it comes to humor, this Pink is extremely pale.
The most striking thing about Garcon Stupide (Stupid Boy), which opens tomorrow for a limited run at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, is how explicit the sex scenes are. They’re not quite XXX-porn, but they’re close enough. Of course, the moments of rampaging sex — which includes four-ways, an encounter with a massive black dildo, and talk of (but thankfully no visible) fisting — are key to the evolution behind Loic, a 20-year-old gay man who, over the course of the French- produced film, sheds his self-absorption and hedonism and finds genuine purpose in his life beyond work at a chocolate factory. At some point or another, we’ve all either known a Loic — or been a Loic — and the recognition allows us to connect to the movie in a deeply personal way.
Directed by Lionel Baier, Garcon Stupide has a loose-limbed quality; it feels at times like a documentary. The lack of a strong storyline, however, coupled with the languorous pace deployed by Baier can be a test of patience. Your interest is held by newcomer Pierre Chatagny, whose Loic captures all the infuriating, frustrating, incontestably sweet qualities of a young gay man in search of himself. It’s a full-on honest portrayal, and it makes Garcon Stupide one of the smartest coming-of-age films to arrive in years.