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Martin, Beyonce Breathe New Life Into Classic Comedy <i>The Pink Panther</i>


Steve Martin goes all out for laughs in a new film inspired by a series of comedies that began more than 40 years ago. Alan Silverman has a look at The Pink Panther.

In 1963, British actor Peter Sellers created a character that became his signature role: a bumbling French gendarme who blunders his way through the investigation into the theft of a fabulous rose-hued diamond called The Pink Panther. Well, the jewel has been heisted again and only one investigator is up to the task of solving the crime.

This time it's Steve Martin as Clouseau and the American comic actor acknowledges his version is inspired by the Peter Sellers original.

"Certainly, it's a total inspiration," he says. "You think about it at first and then you don't think about it anymore. You realize 'this feels new.' It's almost an intellectual issue that once you start making the movie you burrow down and make the movie; and you can't be thinking about the gods of comedy above you.

"You know, in the Marx brothers [movies] you would see them being insane and all of the other characters didn't notice," adds Martin. "They thought it was normal behavior. That's kind of what happens in "The Pink Panther," too. There's big, big behavior and all of the other people don't notice ... or if they notice, they are not going 'what?' "

Martin's ridiculous faux French accent is also a tribute to the Sellers original; and co-star Jean Reno - who only has to listen to himself to hear a genuine French accent - say the point is parody.

"Clouseau has to have a completely crazy accent, because it is part of the character ... part of Inspector Clouseau," he says. "If you imagine it with a real accent like mine, it is not funny, in fact. It has to be a caricature to make fun of the French.

Popular singer Beyonce Knowles is also in the cast playing a popular singer. The Grammy-winner made her film debut in the spy spoof Austin Powers, but Knowles says she understands her place in the comedies.

"I've been very, very fortunate and I would have never told you I would be in a comedy at all," sh esays. " Thank God I'm able to play the straight person, because I could never be the comedian; but Steve is very professional and within an instant switches into that accent and that craziness that I just couldn't resist wanting to laugh at."

The Pink Panther also features respected English actress Emily Mortimer, who admits this style of comedy frightens her.

"The potential for embarrassment is so enormous. I don't think there's anything more embarrassing than trying to tell a joke or be funny on film and failing, with no one laughing," she says. "The thought of that was just so mortifying that I managed to terrify myself witless in anticipation of this job. Luckily, for me, the comic moments were the physical ones and I didn't have much verbal comedy. I just tried to keep the character as real and as simple as possible in the moments when was talking and then, when was called upon to do the physical gags, just go for it ... just let myself go and be as silly and stupid and ridiculous as I could possibly be."

Steve Martin, who also co-wrote the script, says test screenings showed silly slapstick physical humor is what the audience expects in a Pink Panther comedy.

"Some of it is dumb. I like physical scenes that are actually clever," he says. " I think that's what keeps a physical scene going: it's moving from one little place to another and has a logic to it, rather than just bumping your head."

The Pink Panther also features Oscar-winner Kevin Kline as Clouseau's boss, Inspector Dreyfus [the character played by Herbert Lom in the original films]; and there are cameos by, among others, English actors Clive Owen and Jason Statham. The film is directed by Shawn Levy, who also made the comedy remake Cheaper By The Dozen with Martin. The title is not the only reminder of the original Panther films; this new version also uses the instantly recognizable theme music composed for the first one by the late Henry Mancini.