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You might say that The Pink Panther is a parlor game that should’ve stayed in Steve Martin’s parlor. But only after much reflection. The initial response will likely be closer to ça pue! Martin’s evening-length Peter Sellers impersonation fulfills every bad expectation you could’ve had for it. As mirthless as it is pointless, The Pink Panther purports to be a “prequel” to its source material, but its real aim, presumably, is to build a new franchise out of the venerable Blake Edwards series. May it be the stake in its own heart. We begin where, essentially, we always did, with Gallic pinhead Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin) summoned to Paris for a high-profile crime: the simultaneous slaying of a soccer coach and the theft of the priceless Pink Panther gem. The culprit might be a French player (William Abadie), a Russian trainer (Henry Czerny), or a bootylicious American pop singer (Beyoncé Knowles, cast radically against type). No matter whodunit, though, the movie’s true victim is clear: Kevin Kline, who tries to underplay the part of Clouseau’s foiled superior, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (immortalized by the great madman Herbert Lom), and succeeds only in vanishing from the screen. But why stick around? As co-scripted by Martin and Meatballs writer Len Blum and directed by Cheaper by the Dozen’s Shawn Levy, The Pink Panther leaves yawning abysses between every joke and telegraphs every gag from 10 miles away. The movie’s only real interest, finally, is necrophiliac: to see if Martin can snatch the Clouseau crown from his dead predecessor. He can’t. Sellers’ inspector was a petit bourgeois attempting to maintain his equilibrium in a hostile physical universe. His very seriousness made him funny, and because Sellers had the gift of pouring himself into a role, Clouseau’s shtick seemed like the most natural effluvium of his soul. You never caught Sellers trying to be funny. You never catch Martin not trying: He dutifully mimics Sellers’ plummy vowels and whiplash recovery from every dismount. True, in one sequence, he does manage a clever set of variations on the single sentence “I would like to buy a hamburger.” But he’s squeezing himself into someone else’s custom-fitted trench coat, and the strain is communicable. —Louis Bayard