Over its long, tortured history as one of MGM's prized franchises, The Pink Panther has yielded only one great movie (1964's A Shot In The Dark), one good one (1963's The Pink Panther), a lot of mediocrity, and at least a few of the most misbegotten duds in the studio's history. What further indignity could really be brought to a series that includes an entire feature padded out with outtakes of dead star Peter Sellers (1982's Trail Of The Pink Panther) and a bizarre revival starring Roberto Benigni (1993's Son Of The Pink Panther)? The new, kid-friendly version starring Steve Martin finds a way to shimmy under the bar a couple of times, including a scene in which Martin's Inspector Clouseau farts in an allegedly soundproof recording booth, and another in which he fumbles for Viagra. But it's a passable slapstick comedy, certainly better than the sad spectacle of Sellers withering away while donning a peg leg and a plastic parrot on his shoulder, or some other horrible getup.
Plucking just a handful of elements from the original, including the titular precious diamond, The Pink Panther moves Clouseau into the modern world while keeping the jokes older than dirt. The half-considered plot kicks off at a soccer match where the French coach takes a poison dart to the neck and the honking pink diamond ring on his finger goes missing. With the nation in a tizzy, Chief Inspector Kevin Kline turns the case over to the bumbling Martin, under the logic that Martin's mistakes will somehow bring glory to Kline's own secret investigation and win him the Medal Of Honor when the killer/thief is unmasked. Looking a bit like a deer in headlights—though granted, a really pretty deer—Beyoncé Knowles seems like the main suspect as the coach's songstress girlfriend, but Martin and sidekick Jean Reno explore less conventional tributaries.
With the exception of a few double entendres, most putting Martin and the adorably bookish Emily Mortimer in compromised positions, the new Pink Panther shoots for the family crowd that turns up to see Martin's Cheaper By The Dozen movies. This makes its existence even more puzzling: Since it's been more than 30 years since the last good Pink Panther movie, many parents are too young to remember the series, let alone their children. Nevertheless, Martin makes a fine Clouseau, re-energizing musty old physical gags involving chandeliers and priceless vases, and rolling his tongue around a zesty form of pidgin French. If he ever finds his Blake Edwards, there may be hope for this franchise yet.