Son of the Pink Panther

After a dry decade marked by inert and outdated comedies, Blake Edwards, Hollywood's one-time ingenious farceur, desperately tries to bounce back with Son of the Pink Panther, the eighth episode in the comedy series that began in l964. Starring Italian comedian Robert Benigni as the new bumbling inspector (Peter Sellers' screen son), it is a tired pastiche of recycled sketches and sight gags. Pic will generate some coin-opening week as a curio item for nostalgic viewers, but will rapidly lose its draw after dismissive reviews and negative word-of-mouth, landing where it belongs, the video-shelf.

It must have sounded like a valid concept to revive the series, a decade after the last installment (Curse of the Pink Panther), with a gifted comedian like Benigni as a new hero. But it turns out that Edwards, who directed all eight pics, has nothing new, fresh, or funny to add to the old series.

This time around, twitching Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is asked to investigate the disappearance of Princess Yasmin (Debrah Farentino), kidnapped by a nasty German terrorist (Robert Davi) as a ploy to depose her father. Also assigned to the case is Jacques Gambrelli (Benigni), a second-class gendarme who doesn't initially realize he's the illegitimate son of the famed Inspector Clouseau. Nor, to his dismay, does Lom. Like father like son, with minor alterations: Both are charmingly inept, but Benigni's love for poetry and opera replace Sellers' passion for the violin. After 15 minutes of poorly staged action, Benigni is finally introduced, innocently riding his bike and causing the first of many subsequent accidents. From this point on, pic diverges into a number of sub-plots that don't make much sense except serve as platform for the jokes.

As a series, the Pink Panther was never coherent: the first film was a bedroom farce with some suspense, then slapstick was gradually introduced. When the series hit its stride, in the late l970s, suspense elements were dropped and the comedies became loosely-linked cat-and-mouse routines between the accident-prone Sellers and the eternally victimized Lom.

But the comic momentum of the old films has largely disappeared from Son of the Pink Panther. Tossed together, this chapter is replete with cliched spoofs, self-referential quotes– even imitations of Sellers' notorious accent. Too bad that Edwards' specialty, the elaborate orchestration of sight gags with hilarious payoffs, is almost absent here. The slapstick humor is rather vulgar, and the few effective gags are the incidental ones.

Benigni, who was brilliant as a jailbird in Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law and quite hilarious in Johnny Stecchino, is the major asset, but his vast talents are underutilized. It's nice to see the series' veterans again, though, under these circumstances, neither Lom, usually so pathetically laughable, nor Kwouk, whose brawls with Sellers were always a high point, excel.

Cast as Benigni's mother, Claudia Cardinale, who hasn't aged gracefully, is burdened with the task of having to explain too much what happened in the previous stories. One unavoidably smiles when Cardinale says that Clouseau “made love the way he played music,” but even such moderately whimsical lines are in short supply.

Watching this film is boring and exhausting–there are too many pauses between the few funny set-ups and every minor routine is pounded with a sledgehammer. Alternating tedium with frantic pace, the comedy never finds its rhythm.

Except for the cute credit sequence, production values are mediocre. Pic feels as if it were quickly put together: Dick Bush's on-location lensing isn't very impressive, and Robert Pergament's editing is often jarring and abrupt. Judging by the results, it may be a good idea to put the Pink Panther to rest.