The Pink Panther (2006)

Directed by Shawn Levy

Now that I’m seeing ads for The Pink Panther 2 (due for release in February, I believe), I thought it might be a good time to discuss The Pink Panther, the 2006 film based on the Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers films. As I recall, when it came out a few years ago it was less than warmly received by the critics. At least, the few reviews I saw were not enthusiastic.

So … why do a sequel? According to the numbers, this ill-advised movie did rather well. According to the site The Numbers, the movie cost an estimated $80,000,000. It made, worldwide, $158,926,474. In DVD sales, it made $23,131,141. That’s a total of $182,057,615. So, when you subtract the budget, the movie earned $102,057,615.

A hundred million dollars seems incentive enough to make a movie. This is the cynical view, of course. But movies, certainly Hollywood movies, get made in order to make money. (I shouldn’t have put in the reference to Hollywood. Any filmmaker who manages to drum up financing for his or her film has gotten that financing from people or companies that hope to make money.)

With The Pink Panther, the 2006 edition, we have a movie that was, according to many critics, if not bad certainly not very good. Yet it made over $100,000,000. Apparently someone, somewhere, liked the movie.

I was one of those someones.

Yes, I liked it. In fact, liked it a lot. I’ve watched it many times and, each time, it has made me laugh, which is what the movie intended to do. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s funny. It’s thoroughly silly, but I’m a big fan of silly. It even has a few warm, sentimental moments that work, at least for me. (I loved Emily Mortimer and Jean Reno in the movie.)

However, the movie faces an uphill battle. A very steep uphill battle. And that is the legacy left by Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards. Roger Ebert states the problem perfectly in his review:

“What is the moviegoer with a good memory to do when confronted with ‘The Pink Panther,’ directed by Shawn Levy and starring Steve Martin? Is it possible to forget Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers? It is not.”

I’m old enough to remember all those movies when they came out, and have seen them off and on over the years, but I didn’t have the same problem as Mr. Ebert. In fact, while I enjoyed the movies, I was never a huge fan of them. With Sellers, I loved movies like The Party, Dr. Strangelove and Being There (to name a few), but the Pink Panther movies … I was always just lukewarm on them. Though I do recall the look of Clouseau and certain scenes are still very vivid (and funny) for me.

Others, however, are in the Roger Ebert camp and I can understand their problem. I suspect, however, that the people who allowed the 2006 entry to the Clouseau movies to make so much money were much younger and/or less cinema aficionados than most reviewers. The audience were less rooted to the previous films and thus more open to this Pink Panther and its own merits as a movie.

The film itself is structured much like the earlier movies in that it’s somewhat episodic. The plot is really just a way to connect a number of comic scenes highlighting the ineptitude of Clouseau and the unwitting victims of his fiascos. It’s very much slapstick comedy, very visual.

(I find it interesting that a friend of mine, who has not seen the movie, often goes into the hamburger routine from the movie – the mispronunciation that goes on relentlessly.)

For me, Steve Martin was a happy bit of casting in the role of Clouseau. It fits his comedic persona, at least that of his earlier days. In the L.A. Times review, Carina Chocano makes mention of Martin’s jerk persona meeting Seller’s idiot and I think that’s true, though I think it’s semantic slight-of-hand to suggest there is a difference in the terms. The point is that both find comedic mileage with the type and so, with Martin as Clouseau, you have someone who slips into the Clouseau character relatively easily.

When you combine this with Martin also being one of the writers on the film, you also get some of his sensibility which brings an additional dimension to the film, one that isn’t found in the Blake/Sellers films. At least, not as I remember them. This is the dimension of warmth, for want of a better word. It’s not an overwhelming aspect of the movie, but you do get something more than comedy in Martin’s Clouseau and his relationships with Nicole (Emily Mortimer) and Ponton (Jean Reno). Those characters and their relationships, and their interactions, also make for some of the funniest scenes in the movie.

In sum, I liked the movie. I imagine the filmmakers knew they would likely get something close to a roasting, however good their film was, simply because this was not a Sellers as Clouseau movie. But for those who can get past that, and keeping in mind humour is a difficult thing to finesse, I think this is an enjoyable, funny, light-hearted movie. One I continue to watch.

3 out of 4 stars.

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