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EW reviews: Pale 'Pink Panther'

Also: Tame 'Curious George'; soulful 'Heart of Gold

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Entertainment Weekly

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Steve Martin plays Inspector Clouseau in "The Pink Panther."

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(Entertainment Weekly) -- Steve Martin scholars in search of a thesis topic are encouraged to analyze the inspiration the complicated comedian draws from the mysteries of his own pants. Consider: Martin's great, silent stage act, ''The Great Flydini,'' consists of pulling an abundance of objects from his open zipper. And now in "The Pink Panther," playing the role of bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau, first made famous by Peter Sellers in Blake Edwards' 1964 caper of the same name, Martin once again brings his trousers to the party.

Ensconced in a posh hotel suite with Beyoncé Knowles playing an international pop diva, his Clouseau fumbles with a drink called a Flaming Mojito and, long story short, eventually emerges from the nearly wrecked hotel with his crotch smoking. The sight of the handsome, white-haired Martin (black moustache smartly trimmed and eyebrows set on Go!) maintaining his dignity in the face of self-propelled chaos is the artist's signature philosophical stance. It's a classic.

Everything charming about this pale "Pink Panther" -- as well as everything else much less so -- is on display in that scene. Martin's gift for physical and vocal comedy is as deft as ever -- he chews over the pronunciation of hamburger the way Sellers masticated his monkey. But the plot, involving a murder, a missing diamond, and a vain police chief (Kevin Kline), makes a short story long. And in fishing for appeal to a younger audience (with a pretty but tonally wrong Beyoncé and the jokes about Viagra, calling plans, and Flaming Mo's), director Shawn Levy and his team squander Martin's old-timey hipster appeal -- everything that makes his act fly.

EW grade: C

'Curious George'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

Children's books today often feature illustrations so dazzling they're works of art, but that only enhances my love for the magical simplicity of the "Curious George" books, which were first published in the 1940s. There was never anything fussy or extraneous about H.A. Rey's drawings of George and his adventurous misbehavior.

The eager rascal of a monkey -- a stand-in, of course, for every last child who read the books -- would dunk himself into a pot of spaghetti or paint a fancy New York living room to resemble his palm-treed jungle home, yet even as he acted like a very bad boy, the tone of the stories was open-eyed, gentle, curiously becalmed. The soft dabs of color told you that there was nothing all that wrong with what George was doing. Left to his own devices, he couldn't help but get himself into a pickle; that's what monkeys do. He was an angelic mischief-maker, and so the books had the effect of letting a kid feel especially good about being a kid.

Given the hellzapoppin', media-zapped, ADD nature of so much contemporary animation, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new cartoon of "Curious George," featuring the voice of Will Ferrell as the Man in the Yellow Hat, doesn't veer all that far from the soothing tone of the books. This isn't a high-tech kinetic update, like the "Stuart Little" films, engineered to occupy kids and adults at the same time. It's truly a fairy tale for toddlers -- and no one very much older.

Set to a series of noodling musical numbers by Jack Johnson, a singer-songwriter so mild he makes James Taylor sound like Trent Reznor, "Curious George" is a sweet trifle, but maybe a little bit too sweet. George himself doesn't speak, but he does coo, and he grins his adorable grin so much that the movie comes close to denying he's any sort of troublemaker.

Will Ferrell, reduced to a voice, is more paternal, less hysterical than usual; he turns the Man in the Yellow Hat into an affably game science nerd, and Drew Barrymore, as the teacher who has a crush on him, flirts engagingly. There are a few contempo anachronisms, like the fact that the Man in the Yellow Hat has caller ID, not to mention a first name (it's Ted). But I would have gladly overlooked them had his attempt to retrieve the Lost Shrine of Zagawa -- a towering ape statue from Africa -- carried even a glint of urgency. It's George, of course, who screws everything up, and charmingly so when his King Kong-size reflection gets projected onto New York traffic, but Curious George ends up being a bit tame for megaplex monkey business.

EW grade: B-

'Final Destination 3'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

I'm used to teenagers getting pumped at horror films, treating them as trash comedies of fear. Yet as I listened to a mostly young preview audience react to the gruesomely elaborate deaths in "Final Destination 3," the cheers, laughs, and awestruck ''Whoaaas!'' growing more delirious with each slaughter, I thought, Why stop there? Bring on the gladiators!

The "Final Destination" films, in case you missed the first two, are the modern mall equivalent of those guilty-pleasure "Omen" sequels. It's not so much that the devil is involved (though, in a vague sort of way, he is). No, it's all about the deaths. "Final Destination 3" opens with a huge roller-coaster crash (a follow-up to the plane crash and traffic accident that kicked off the first two films), and then, one by one, a handful of high school seniors who were ejected from the ride at the last minute get what's coming to them anyway.

It's an escalating contest of can-you-top-this brutality, with each death staged as the final link in a Rube Goldberg chain reaction. As a dude sits in his car at a fast-food drive-in station, a truck spins off the road at the last minute, and when it smashes into the back of the car -- bzzzz! -- the guy's head gets meloned by a whirring fan blade.

What makes all of this ''fun,'' instead of dark or threatening, is that the victim was an idiot who leered at the class teases with horny glee. Take that, perv! But, of course, the babes get it too; they're each trapped in a tanning chamber, the camera lingering on their singed naked flesh. In "Final Destination 3," all the victims are spoiled pills who razz one another with toxic distaste. When they get offed, they're being punished not for their sexuality (as in a slasher film) but simply for the crime of being the annoying scuzz they are -- and the audience, grooving on the bad vibes, goes wild.

Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who's the closest thing the movie has to a virginal nice-girl heroine, has taken pictures of each one of the victims that foreshadow their grisly ends; the murders, in other words, arrive by cosmic design. But where is the grand mysterious force of evil coming from? At a horror roller coaster as breezy in its blood thrills as "Final Destination 3," it almost seems to be coming from the audience.

EW grade: C+

'Neil Young: Heart of Gold'

Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman

It requires a stretch of the memory muscles to recall when a concert movie could be an event, but occasionally you see one that bubbles to life. "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" is the first major rock-star performance film directed by Jonathan Demme since "Stop Making Sense" (1984), and though it's wistful, elegiac, and touching where the earlier movie vibrated with the electricity of Talking Heads at their headiest, Demme hasn't lost a bit of his ability to slow-zoom the camera right into a musician's soul.

In 2005, Young and his band took over Nashville's fabled Ryman Auditorium to perform the "Prairie Wind" album, and Young, wizened yet valiant, his voice still braying at the moon, delivers these songs of aging and loss as if caught in a beautiful dream of what lies waiting for him on the other side.

EW grade: B+


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