Inspector Clouseau is like Hamlet, Steve Martin says


June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 13, 2009 at 2:11 PM EDT

Steve Martin described Inspector Clouseau as "the comedian's Hamlet" on Friday after his "Pink Panther 2" tickled the Berlin Film Festival almost 30 years after the death of original star Peter Sellers.

"Peter Sellers was a great comedian, he was the great inventor of this character," Martin said in Berlin after the screening.

"I feel that dramatic characters are like comedy actors, that they can be played by several actors as time goes on. To me, Inspector Clouseau is the comedian's Hamlet. It's one of the most difficult roles to play."

"Pink Panther 2" is misleadingly titled as this is, in fact, only the latest in a string of "Pink Panther" movies dating back to 1963 when Sellers first embodied the hapless French inspector in perhaps his best-remembered role.

Released in the United States earlier this month and set to hit screens imminently elsewhere, the movie finds Clouseau pulled off traffic-warden duty to investigate -- again -- a string of spectacular jewellery thefts.

Martin, 63, made his first "Pink Panther" outing in 2006 alongside Kevin Kline, Jean Reno and R&B singer Beyonce Knowles, playing the role very much his own way and steering away from trying to impersonate the inimitable Sellers.

This time, with Harald Swart directing in place of Shawn Levy, Martin appears alongside Reno again as well as Hollywood hunk Andy Garcia, Indian beauty Aishwarya Rai and British stalwarts John Cleese and Jeremy Irons.

Neither the first film or this one has gone down a storm with reviewers, and Martin lashed out at what he called "critical snobbery," believing that "comedy is not a critic's medium."

"I have received bad reviews all my life. I had bad reviews when I started with my stand-up act. 'The Jerk', one of my most enduring comedies, was universally panned in America," Martin said.

The plot is not complicated: the thief is known as "Tornado" and at the start of the film he -- or is it she? -- has already made off with no less than the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin and the Imperial Sword of Japan.

When the mysterious robber then nabs the priceless diamond known as the "Pink Panther", an international team of experts comes together on the streets of Paris and Rome to nail the culprit.

Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Cleese) reluctantly assigns his best man to the case, who takes it up, aided by his partner Ponton (Reno) and Nicole (Emily Mortimer), the latter the object of Clouseau's advances.

Amid much silliness and deliberate pronunciation problems, the thief swipes the pope's holy ring, leading at one point to Clouseau donning papal garb and being mistaken for the real Holy Father greeting the faithful.

But Martin rejects the label slapstick to describe the movie, preferring instead "physical comedy."

"Slapstick to me was low, it was just beating someone or hitting them in the face with a pot. I tend to think we are little bit more elegant, more graceful.... I have always been known as a physical actor in America," he said.

With the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who was also behind the recent Sundance festival hit "500 Days of Summer", "Pink Panther 2" is screening out of competition at this week's 59th Berlinale.

The competition was wrapping up on Friday with veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda's love story "Sweet Rush". The festival's best picture was to be crowned with the Golden Bear award on Saturday.

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