'The Pink Panther'

Steve Martin as Inspector Jacques Clouseau. The trenchcoat, the mustache, the ridiculous accent. It's not too much of a stretch, is it?

Well, no, it isn't -- not for the current incarnation of Steve Martin, anyway. This is the guy who's been coasting for the better part of a decade, the blithe cheque-casher who's made two "Cheaper By the Dozen" movies, and the one with Queen Latifah where he played the uptight white guy, and the remakes of "Sgt. Bilko" and "The Out-of-Towners." It's just another gig. It's just a job.

The other Steve Martin -- the gifted writer, graceful physical comic and versatile actor, the guy who still yearns to be taken seriously in projects like "Shopgirl" and "Novocaine" and "The Spanish Prisoner" -- is nowhere to be found.

And so we have this new "Pink Panther," where the slapstick franchise of Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards - which was well past its prime even before Roberto Benigni got his grubby hands on it -- is dragged out once again for another attempt at a cash cow.

The new film follows the formula: A spectacular crime is committed, and the supercilious Chief Inspector Dreyfuss (Kevin Kline, very clearly aware that this role is beneath him) assigns Clouseau to investigate, with the intention of stepping in to save the day when the oblivious moron inevitably bungles the case.

Of course, it doesn't work out as planned, and Clouseau becomes a media star, despite his ineptitude in almost every police-related situation. (He's equally at sea in the world of romance, despite the invitations of worshipful secretary Emily Mortimer and comely suspect Beyonce Knowles.)

Martin and his "Cheaper By the Dozen" director Shawn Levy line up the pratfalls and malapropisms like good little soldiers, but they're hampered by the sad reality that most of Edwards' elaborate-calamity gags weren't all that funny the first time around, and Mike Myers has already stolen the stuff that was for his "Austin Powers" movies. What's left is a tired shell of a comedy, where the jokes all feel three or four decades old, because they are.

In the movie's favor, Jean Reno does a fine job of maintaining his dignity as Clouseau's stone-faced Man Friday, and there are a couple of glimmers of wit in the Zen randomness of Clouseau's dialogue -- particularly in a one-sided phone conversation in New York that plays perfectly against our expectations. But those moments only glimmer because everything else is so dull.

Sony's enhanced-widescreen DVD is, if nothing else, comprehensive, examining the movie from every possible angle; there's even a 10-minute featurette examining the lengths to which the animators of the opening titles were willing to go in order to pay proper homage to the DePatie-Freleng titles that opened Edwards' films.

Director Shawn Levy contributes a fawning audio commentary, and yammers further about the comedic genius of Martin and his co-stars over about 22 minutes of deleted scenes and an expanded version of Beyoncé's climactic musical performance. Levy can also be seen expounding on his own genius -- and hogging the camera - in two other production featurettes, "Cracking the Case" and "Deconstructing the Panther." He's a little more contained in the "Sleuth Cam" featuretttes, which edit raw behind-the-scenes footage of three shooting days into a trio of little production narratives. It amounts to nothing -- less than nothing, when you include the artificial-sweetener commercial that's apparently a special feature- but at least somebody was paying attention on the set.

STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: June 13, 2006
RATING: PG
PRICE: $28.95
TIME: 93 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French audio dub; English and French subtitles; audio commentary; deleted scenes; production featurettes; music videos.
INTERNET SITE: pinkpantherthemovie.com