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‘Son of the Pink Panther’ (PG)

By David Mills
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 27, 1993

Having demonstrated twice before his utter lack of shame by keeping alive the "Pink Panther" series after the death of its star, Peter Sellers, filmmaker Blake Edwards tries again to wring profits from the memory of Sellers's great creation with "Son of the Pink Panther," which opens today.

"Trail of the Pink Panther" in 1982 and "Curse of the Pink Panther" in '83 both flopped. The one thing Edwards did right this time was to cast comic actor Roberto Benigni -- a big star in Italy -- as the illegitimate son of Jacques Clouseau, the accident-prone French detective who first appeared on the screen in "The Pink Panther" nearly 30 years ago. Benigni is enormously charming, a slight little fellow with a homely face that seems almost puppetlike and a flair for broad physical comedy.

His Jacques Gambrelli, a k a "Jacques Clouseau Jr.," is a more frantic, jittery character than the original Clouseau, who always managed to maintain a ridiculously inappropriate pretense of unflappability. And while Sellers got laughs with a goofy accent and the look on his face, Benigni throws his whole body into Edwards's gags.

Ah, yes, those gags. After hiring Benigni, it seems, Edwards flat ran out of good ideas. Now in his seventies, and with such other notable films to his credit as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Victor/Victoria," Edwards here offers such contributions to contemporary film comedy as a poodle making love to a man's leg, a mechanical hospital bed going haywire, Gambrelli repeatedly and accidentally injecting himself with Novocain, plus one joke each involving urine and intestinal gas. Laughs are scarce. Edwards also seems to have greatly overestimated the inherent humor in such recurring "Pink Panther" bits of business as Herbert Lom's facial tics -- the nerve damage that Clouseau inevitably caused his put-upon boss -- and Burt Kwouk's karate sneak attacks as Cato, Clouseau's faithful manservant. Watching Lom and Kwouk do their shtick without Sellers only reminds a viewer of the vacuum at the center of "Son of the Pink Panther."

As for the action-adventure plot concocted by Edwards and his co-writers, Madeline and Steve Sunshine, it's an incomprehensible mess involving a kidnapped princess and some manner of Middle Eastern palace intrigue. Parents expecting a slapstick romp wholly suitable for children may be uncomfortable with the level of automatic weapons fire and falling bodies in the climactic rescue of the princess.

But even more unsettling than this is the inescapable feeling, by the end, that Blake Edwards has laid the groundwork for more wild, wacky film adventures with Benigni in the role of Clouseau Jr.

"Son of the Pink Panther" is rated PG and contains scenes of rampant gun violence.

Copyright The Washington Post

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