The original Pink Panther series remains fairly popular even to this day. The films made during Peter Sellers’ lifetime are well-known and if they’re not legendary comedies, they’re not far off. The film series sadly suffered greatly after Sellers’ death at 52, with three increasingly embarrassing attempts to revive the series. There were several attempts since Son of the Pink Panther to revive the series, but none ever took off.
I couldn’t find too much about the behind the scenes details for this movie, other than the bare bones details. Before Steve Martin was selected to reprise the role of Inspector Clouseau, Mike Myers and Chris Tucker were both considered. I could see why they’d consider character actor Myers for the role, since he displayed a wide variety of silly characters in the Austin Powers series, but Tucker? Yeah, the mere fact that they considered him baffles me. As for Myers, that was around the point where people started getting sick of him and his career rapidly declined, especially after 2008’s The Love Guru bombed. But this casting consideration would have taken place around the time that Shrek 2 released, when he was still popular.
Part of the reason they picked Martin is because he worked with producer Robert Simonds before, with the very successful Cheaper by the Dozen. Shawn Levy was chosen to direct. Some of his other director credits include the previously mentioned Cheaper by the Dozen, Big Fat Liar, all three Night at the Museum movies (the first of which released the same year as The Pink Panther), and the recently released Free Guy. Martin co-wrote the script, along with Len Blum, and Michael Saltzman shares story credits.
Other major cast members include Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who was previously considered for Jacques in Son of the Pink Panther. You’ve got Jean Reno as Gendarme Gilbert Ponton, a capable officer who is assigned to work with Clouseau and report directly to Dreyfus on their findings. Emily Mortimer plays secretary Nicole, who is also a love interest for Clouseau. Beyoncé plays Xania, a famous pop star and girlfriend to Jason Statham’s character. On that note, Statham and Clive Owen are both uncredited in their roles. Statham is the head coach for the national French football team, who is murdered in the opening scene, and Owen briefly plays Agent 006 as a James Bond parody.
2006’s The Pink Panther didn’t go well with the critics, earning a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 4.1/10. While critics generally praised Martin’s performance. Roger Ebert’s written review contains this interesting quote, “Even in purely physical scenes, something is missing. I think maybe the problem is that Steve Martin is sane, and cannot lose himself entirely to idiocy. Sellers, who liked to say he had no personality, threw himself into a role as if desperate to grab all the behavior he could and run away with it.” Richard Roeper’s review asked, “What is the point?” IGN wrote one of the positive reviews, stating “Martin is charming as Clouseau and, after all the bad buzz leading up to release, I think Sony is actually going to have a hit on their hands.” MovieWeb also wrote a moderately positive review, stating, “I am a huge fan of Steve Martin and did like him as Clouseau. The film didn’t live up to expectations, but his likeability did.”
The film also received two Razzie nominations, for Worst Remake or Rip-Off and Worst Supporting Actress for Kristen Chenoweth … who played a very minor role. Despite all the flack it received from critics, it was a commercial success. The Pink Panther earned $164 million on an $80 million budget. It’s earned a further $23 million on DVD sales alone.
As for my own thoughts, I saw this one in theaters, a couple of years after seeing the original, Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again on rental. Back then, I felt that it was a good movie, but not quite as good as Returns or Strikes Again. I felt that Martin did really well as Clouseau, and the core story worked, but some of the jokes felt a bit manufactured or over-the-top.
After seeing it again for the first time in about 12 years, my thoughts on the movie haven’t changed all that much, other than they’re more fresh and more analytical.
Steve Martin is by far the best replacement yet for the role that Peter Sellers is best known for. He brings a lot of the same basic ideas to Inspector Clouseau. He’s got a terrible accent. He’s clumsy. He’s overconfident with his detective skills, when in reality he’s kind of an idiot. He’s got a lot of charisma despite his bumbling nature. And of course he’s both overly cautious with his attitude of always being ready for a fight, and oblivious to much of what’s going on around him. But at the same time, he manages to make the role his own, to a degree.
Although he’s got a terrible French accent, he doesn’t try to copy Sellers’ take on the accent directly. They don’t use this accent problem for as many misunderstandings as the original movie, but it does lead to a hilarious accent coach scene that works because it feels realistic. Instead of having a house servant like Cato randomly attacking him, he instead does the same for Ponton, only to get humiliated every time. It’s a joke that kind-of works, but feels increasingly forced each time it’s used.
One interesting aspect of this portrayal of Clouseau is that, despite how much of an idiot he can be, he’s also a mad genius in other ways. He’s knows about way too many regulations, has a very good memory, and can speak at least one Chinese language, which itself helps him stumble upon a vital clue. Unlike the original movies, where Clouseau pretty much always stumbles onto the answers, you can actually buy Martin’s interpretation of Clouseau as a potentially great detective … if he were to smarten up and iron out his many faults first. As much as he spends most of the movie making a fool of himself, how he manages to figure out the murderer, and the location of the missing Pink Panther diamond, is somehow very impressive and believable.
Although Sellers is still clearly the better Clouseau, Martin manages to put in an entertaining performance in his own right. On that note, Kline is also fairly decent as a pre-insanity Charles Dreyfus. He intentionally puts Clouseau on the case because of his reputation as an idiot. Meanwhile, he works behind the scenes with a crack team of investigators to solve the case himself, in hopes to win an award he’s been nominated for 7 times, but hasn’t won. It’s a side-story that pays off well in the film’s climax, with him about to arrest the wrong suspect, only for Clouseau to pop in and arrest the actual murderer in front of a fairly large crowd, and the murderer straight up admits it on the spot.
Beyond that, there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy in this movie. The rest of the performances work well enough, but aren’t worth writing home about. There are a number of jokes that kind of work, but others are way over-the-top. A lot of comedies in the mid-2000’s were like that. For example, in the original Pink Panther movie, Clouseau tries to rest his hand on a large globe, only for the globe to roll and he falls on the floor. In this movie, Clouseau does the same, but somehow that knocks the ball of the globe loose, and it starts rolling down the hall, down the stairs, and causes a mass-crash for an incoming bicycle race. You see that same globe days later in movie time, bumping into someone in the background. The joke would have been funnier if it knocked someone over in the hallway, but ended there.
The worst offender is when Clouseau is dumb enough to install a program advertised on an internet pop-up window. Instead of merely causing him problems, it causes a mass power outage across an entire section of Paris. That’s … just … dumb. On the flip-side, you’ve got some genuinely clever jokes that I won’t spoil completely, like how he frees his hand from a fake antique vase, or when he thinks he can use a soundproof room at a recording studio to avoid embarrassing himself. This movie works best when the humour is either quick or subtle, as most of its big jokes don’t work that well.
The soundtrack by Christopher Beck is good overall. It takes the original theme created by Henry Mancini, but updates it in a way that feels a bit more modern, without disrespecting it. It gives the theme a bit of a more energetic, bouncier feel. That’s appropriate considering Martin was in much better shape at the time than Sellers was even with the first movie, despite already being 54 at the time of filming, whereas Sellers was in his early 30’s when filming the first two. Some of the other themes are based around the songs that Beyoncé performs in the movie, just like how some of the themes in the original movie were based around the song that the princess of Lugash performs at a party in the original.
In fact, the story in this movie is kind of a mesh between the original Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark and Return of the Pink Panther. The main mystery is the murder just like A Shot in the Dark, but the Pink Panther diamond also goes missing just like Returns. It’s the case that Clouseau becomes famous for, like the original. While Dreyfus doesn’t go completely crazy, Clouseau is starting to drive him mad just like A Shot in the Dark. Last but not least, the woman who possesses the diamond ends up playing everyone in both this movie and the original. Yet there are enough differences that this does feel like an original story, just with minor elements from each the first three Sellers movies.
2006’s The Pink Panther isn’t what I would call a great movie. There are a handful of memorable moments, Martin does put in an entertaining performance as Clouseau, and the rest of the cast is competent. While it borrows from the staples of the original series, it switches everything up so that it doesn’t fall into the same habits as the later films. It’s entertaining enough to be watchable, and that’s more than I can say for Inspector Clouseau, Trail of the Pink Panther, Curse of the Pink Panther and Son of the Pink Panther. One could even argue it’s almost on-par with Revenge of the Pink Panther, and that’s where the series started to go downhill. But that also says something in itself. It’s no-where nearly as funny as Shot, Returns or Strikes Again. At the same time, it’s not as compelling of a mystery as the original, or even Shot for that matter.
This movie is at least worth a watch if you’re a fan of the original movies, but how much you’ll enjoy it very much depends on how you feel about Martin’s take on Inspector Clouseau. If you don’t like the first few scenes he’s in, you won’t like this movie. If you do like his first few scenes, then it’s at least an entertaining watch.
Next up is the last Pink Panther movie made to date, 2009’s The Pink Panther 2. I haven’t seen that one, but considering it bombed, I doubt it’s as good as the first.