’s quite possible that The Pink Panther has one of the most brilliant advertising campaigns of all time – the studio makes the film look like complete and utter shit so that when it’s finally released and the reviews come in, the consensus is “I certainly thought that would be worse.”

Which isn’t to say that it’s any good, but when I sat down to watch The Pink Panther I fully expected 90 some odd minutes of sheer pain, and didn’t get that. I even laughed a couple of times. By the end of the film I even felt warmly towards Steve Martin’s take on Inspector Clouseau.

This film is a reboot of the franchise, ignoring the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers films to tell us the origin story of Inspector Clouseau – how he went from bumbling regional cop to a top ranking Inspector in charge of one of the biggest murder investigations in France, trying to find out who killed the national soccer team’s coach and stole his giant Pink Panther diamond. The whys of it didn’t make a lot of sense to me – Kevin Kline as Dreyfus, the head of the French national police, wants a bumbling idiot on the case to divert press attention while he and a crack team of investigators really crack the case – but the film spends mercifully little time on set up and moves straight into the story.

Clouseau gets assigned a partner, Jean Reno as a bemused Jean Reno, who is to drive him around and report back to Dreyfus on every move, and a secretary, Emily Mortimer as Nicole, and the two have a love connection. With Kline as the fourth lead the film has a very decent cast, at least until Beyonce (no relation to Harry) Knowles shows up as the dead coach’s girlfriend and a suspect in the case. She’s awful in every way, completely wooden. It’s obvious that as an actor she has great tits.

Watching the film I found myself wondering why it wasn’t better. Steve Martin gets screenwriting credit, and there are some exchanges that have his fingerprints all over them, and those are the ones that usually made me laugh. But the problem with the film is two-fold – most of the jokes simply suck, and director Shawn Levy couldn’t direct this movie to the corner store with Google Maps. I wonder if he even showed up on set – every shot in this film is so workmanlike, so obvious, that my copy of the PC game The Movies makes more interesting virtual films when left to its own devices.

It’s a pity, because Martin puts a lot of work into his slapstick for Clouseau. It’s a labor-intensive role, where every line is a ridiculous mangling of a French accent, and where he has to engage in the most childish physical comedy while maintaining Clouseaus’ clueless air of professional superiority. More daunting is the fact that Clouseau is a character so closely identified with a single actor – Peter Sellers – that it seems like a sacrilege for someone else to take him on. That said, I think Martin does a credible job, although his Clouseau is definitely the lesser of the two.

Towards the end of the film things seemed to be getting into a rhythm. A number of recurring gags pay off nicely, and the physical comedy moves away from the vulgarisms of the Austin Powers films into something a little more traditional and humorous. There’s a great bit where Clive Owen shows up as Agent 006, spoofing his own rumored involvement in the Bond franchise – I think that this sequence is where the movie really picks up, and almost becomes something worth watching.

Almost but not quite. Despite growing stronger over its running time (and despite an often hilarious turn by Reno), The Pink Panther never gels into anything good. Perhaps in the hands of a better director this would have been something, but as it stands, The Pink Panther is just yet another sad milestone in the valley of Steve Martin’s career.

5.7 out of 10