Clouseau returns 

Say oui to ‘Pink Panther’; hang up on WASC

FUNNY: "Inspector" Martin.
  • FUNNY: "Inspector" Martin.

With Peter Sellers gone, the humor of “The Pink Panther” would have fallen flat with likely any other actor-comedian. But Steve Martin, sporting a silly French accent, had us laughing for pretty much the entire hour and 40 minutes of this restoration of the old Sellers series.

Though the Inspector Clouseau character is supposed to be a doofus, we don’t recall Sellers going to these stupid extremes to be funny. Maybe we need to revisit the 1960s Blake Edwards movies.

This is comedy, though, that we’ve long come to expect from Martin. Here he’s a small-town policeman walking the cobblestone streets in France, his every attempt at helping the townspeople resulting in disaster.

He’s simply the most inept law enforcement officer in the country. Which makes him perfect for Kevin Kline’s Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (like Martin, Kline is another master of the funny faux-French accent). Dreyfuss thinks he can throw the suspects off the case of a murdered soccer coach and missing Pink Panther diamond by putting Clouseau on it, then secretly solve the crime himself behind the scenes, win his coveted Medal of Honor, and move on to the National Assembly. So he summons Clouseau and promotes him to inspector to investigate the murder and the missing diamond, which was on the soccer coach when he was shot with a poison dart.

Possible suspects in the eyes of others, such as the soccer coach’s girlfriend (Beyonce Knowles, pretty much playing herself as the hot singer Xania), aren’t suspects at all to Clouseau, of course.

There are side jokes aplenty in Martin’s and Len Blum’s script. Clive Owen makes a rich, uncredited cameo in a casino as British agent 006 (“That means you’re one number short of the big time,” Clouseau notes; Owen, of course, fell short in the race last year to be the next James Bond). Also, Kline’s Dreyfuss says he’s been nominated for France’s Medal of Honor several times, never to have won. But Kline, who’s been nominated for six Golden Globes and never won (though he does have an Oscar for best supporting actor for 1989’s “A Fish Called Wanda”), notes that “it’s good to be nominated.”

Familiar French movie face Jean Reno is Clouseau’s assistant, Ponton. Lovely Brit Emily Mortimer, as Clouseau’s secretary, is handy for the few and fairly tame sexual innuendo scenes (the film is PG). Mortimer, Kristen Chenowith, Martin and Kline seem to have a lot of fun with the faux French.

We don’t think we’ll give any more away, but we think you can imagine how it ends. You’ll see some of this silly comedy coming a mile away. But you’ll still laugh.

— By Jim Harris

Don’t answer that call
You know that the slasher movie genre has run its course when they start re-making slasher movies that weren’t that good to begin with. Case in point: “When a Stranger Calls.” By 1979, when the original was made, the “Babysitter vs. The Slasher” flick had pretty much sputtered to a halt after five jillion variations on the theme. While that should have mercifully been that, leave it to Hollywood to chip the caveman out of the ice, cram him in a tanning booth, and call what emerges “New and Improved!”

Ah, how the wheel turns, right back to where it started. With the horror thriller once again almost wrung dry, what you get with the new “WASC” might be comical if you hadn’t just paid eight bucks to see it: a movie in which all the suspense is literally built around making you wonder which one of the tired old slasher film cliches — killer behind the door, killer in the attic, killer behind the REFRIGERATOR door, killer in the shower, killer in the back seat — is going to finally pay off in blood. As tired and flat as year-old Schlitz, “WASC” should be enough proof for anybody that the slasher movie is as dead as disco. Not that that’s going to stop them from making another one.

For starters, “WASC” is built around an urban legend so hackneyed that it doesn’t even scare Cub Scouts anymore: The Babysitter and the Phantom Caller. Here, the lovely Camilla Belle plays babysitter Jill, a teen-ager called to stay with two kids in a modern art installation of a house, conveniently situated in the middle of nowhere. Soon after she arrives, however, Jill begins receiving a series of weird phone calls. Though the caller just does the perv breathe for the first few, he soon starts talking, and it ain’t pretty. What’s more, he seems to know where she is in the house. Soon, completely freaked out, Jill has got the police on the horn. They trace the call, and … well, if you don‘t know where this one is going, you need to turn in your Jason Voorhies Fan Club card.

The problem — as with the urban legend that spawned it — is that “Stranger” turns out to be a one-trick pony. Because Jill is in constant contact with the local police, you know full well that nothing too dangerous can happen until the killer decides to finally quit playing cat and mouse and prove that he is anything more than an overheated teen-ager with a case of asthma. That, by rights, can’t really happen until the last few frames, can it? (Even in the sticks, the cops respond pretty quickly when a babysitter calls to say she’s being julienned). By that time, we’ve been teased like a Mormon prom date; so unmercifully, in fact, that no matter how dastardly the killer is, the shocker moment has to fall flat.

As such the majority of “Stranger” turns out to be an ultimately boring series of horror movie gotchas: strange noises that turn out to be the cat; other creepy noises that turn out to be windblown limbs scratching on windows; dark music that ultimately leads to a shrieking violin crescendo and a coat hanging on the back of a door. While that might be plenty for the teen-age target audience of this clutchfest, it’s not enough for this viewer. Our advice: stay home, and save the babysitting fee.

—David Koon



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