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Adult Humor

The real lesson behind Steve Martin's latest flop.

By 3.15.06

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In a world of movie remakes, it's not unusual to see a remake flop. Steve Martin's recent Pink Panther is, unfortunately, no exception. Take the first few painful minutes of the new film as a warning: it really doesn't get any better. Steve Martin is a very funny and talented actor, but that doesn't come through in this newest addition to the Pink Panther movies in which he plays the famously incompetent Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

Drawing from elements found principally in the first two films in the series, The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark, this latest film tells the story of stolen diamond and a beautiful heroine wrongly accused of murder. The film also includes actors Jean Reno and Kevin Kline who play the roles of the Inspector's sidekick and the Chief Inspector Dreyfus respectively. All of them did a fine job, but they didn't make a real Pink Panther movie.

In addition to that first tedious scene of Clouseau trying to park a ridiculously small Smart Car in a space big enough for a Humvee, the movie includes a lot of unnecessary references: Viagra jokes, allusions to Internet porn and sex, and a few extremely graphic -- but fully clothed -- sex antics. Despite these elements, the film is still rated a mere PG and, if the previews of animation films and ads for McDonald's are any indication, it is being targeted at a very young audience, namely children ten and under. It's an adult-themed film being sold to children, an indication of a substantial error in marketing and production.

Now the original Pink Panther movies were never meant for children. They were adult films before the term came to include pornography. Starting with the 1963 film, audiences around the world were given a truly sexy cast of characters and very funny dialogue full of double entendres, chief among them Inspector Clouseau, brilliantly played by Peter Sellers. In fact, you get the sense that director Blake Edwards and his cast might even have been poking fun at the developing sexual revolution and they do it while keeping almost everybody's clothes on.

Take for example the dinner party scene in the first movie. The young and beautiful Princess Darla (Claudia Cardinale) invites the suave Sir Charles (David Niven) to dinner at her chalet with other elite guests in a ski village in the Italian Alps. Conversation turns to Sir Charles's Don Juan-esque romantic style.

PRINCESS: Well it seems to me, any middle aged bachelor who has never desired the basic rewards of wife and family and finds it necessary to occupy the major portion of his life making one conquest after another is trying to prove something that he can never possibly prove...that he is a man.

SIR CHARLES: A tired Freudian cliche.

PRINCESS: But true.

SIR CHARLES: I wouldn't know. I've never been on the couch.

PRINCESS: Not true. That's part of your problem.

In his pursuit of the notorious jewel thief the Phantom, Inspector Clouseau makes clear that he considers himself quite a debonair lover. This self-delusion plays out charmingly in the contrast between the inspector and his wife, Madame Clouseau (Capucine), who really is intelligent and a vixen in her own right. Unbeknownst to Clouseau, she's the Phantom's accomplice. As the movie ends, the Inspector unpredictably has become a national heartthrob, leaving the audience amused and yet not quite sure who's got the last laugh.

Similar humor plays out in the 1964 movie, A Shot in the Dark, which starts with a series of men and women sneaking in and out of each other's bedrooms. It's all fun and games until someone gets murdered. The prime suspect is Maria (Elke Sommer), a beautiful maid. Clouseau (still Sellers) is brought in to solve the case by those who hope he'll simply bungle it, similar to the plot in Steve Martin's Pink Panther.

As one murder after another occurs, each makes Maria look guiltier. Nevertheless, the story maintains its comedic character including a hilarious, but tastefully filmed, scene in a nudist camp. The revelation of the criminal at the end of the movie gives a new twist to the concept of "collective guilt." Taken in conjunction with the start of the movie, there's more than a hint of a morality lesson.

The new film will no doubt prove an "it'll do" DVD rental or airplane movie; but the script, the lewd humor, and perhaps our own time, will never allow the actors to make a real Pink Panther movie: something witty, sexy, and extremely funny. Without at least two of these elements, a comedy can hardly been a box office success.

If you want to watch a Pink Panther film, skip the new one and buy or rent the originals. For those who appreciate the occasional cocktail, by all means sip away as you watch and laugh. These films, especially the earlier films, provided a way for adults to laugh at themselves. And if children happened to be watching, as was the case when I was growing up, the innuendos and humor convinces them all the more that adults are simply a strange breed and not nearly so reasonable as a child.

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