Defending Steve Martin’s Pink Panther movies

Critically derided they may be, but there's a lot to love in Steve Martin's two Pink Panther movies, Patrick writes...

To start with, it is probably worth noting that I rate The Pink Panther 2 over the preceding yarn. Unfortunately few agree – the sequel to the not-much-of-a-hit 2006 Steve Martin comedy is gauged even lower than the first on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being that in “underutilizing its talented cast, The Pink Panther 2 is little more than a series of lame slapstick gags.”

I, however, beg to differ, both episodes of the rebooted Pink Panther twosome are serviceable and convivial salutes to Peter Sellers’ original movies. Steve Martin takes the plum role of Inspector Clouseau, the clodhopping gendarme whose entire career seemingly pivots around the recovery of the precious Pink Panther diamond. Martin has perfect comic timing, conveying the good inspector’s heavy-handed, can-do investigative style without over-egging the slapstick, thus not making him entirely inept.

Other key characters involved in the franchise, particularly the eternally jaded Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer as Clouseau’s number two and unconvincing love interest are excellent actors who enhance both plot interest and humour. The cast is surprisingly A-list, and the sequel includes notable thesp Alfred Molina and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, although both are ridiculously underused, as is John Cleese as Clouseau’s top-drawer superior.

No one is denying there are obvious negatives to the Pink Panther remakes/reboots, but let’s be positive as we count down 10 things to like about these Steve Martin farces.

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10. They can appeal to adults and kids

The animation giant Pixar’s summer feature has always lured in feverish children and enthusiastic adults, which, if you really think about it, is where the company’s charm lies. Pixar has the astonishing ability of appealing to the little ‘uns and the oftentimes reluctant adults (what willing parent would take their child to The Smurfs 2?), because they include slapstick jokes that younger audience members could lap up, and witty gags that only the grown-ups could understand.

The Pink Panther and its follow-up fall, roughly, into the same category (although neither film, clearly, approaches a Pixar standard); screenwriter Len Blum managed to shoehorn many saucy jokes that only a few would get. If you’re inspired by this piece to revisit the Steve Martin movies, then look out for the more risqué visual jokes and you’ll find yourself surprised.

9. They don’t try to reinvent the series

Peter Sellers’ name is now permanently associated with the title of Clouseau, and he was never able to shake off this typecasting in the latter part of his career. The Pink Panther has been done a few times over the years on big and small screen, but the Steve Martin reboot was easily the biggest and most prominent. What I really respect about the Martin movies is that they don’t try to fundamentally rework the Sellers creation. They self-consciously acknowledge the original movies with numerous visual and script references to the earlier films. A lot of reboots often end in disaster because they try to give the original a full-on makeover, trying to make it too ‘current’. Typically fans and critics hate these efforts, and luckily, The Pink Panther never falls into this trap.

8. The sequel’s actually better than the first film

Sequels that supersede their original films are becoming less and less of a rarity. A long time ago I thought it was only Toy Story 2 that was more popular than the first, but that was a very long time ago. The Pink Panther was a box office success, even though critics were sniffy towards it, and so a sequel came to life, this time with a wider scope and more stars. I enjoy The Pink Panther 2 for just those reasons – the whole thing goes globetrotting, and there’s a larger cast, meaning more suspects. The logic in the first film felt a bit sounder than the second, but The Pink Panther 2 is still, on the whole, a far more enjoyable film.

7. “Good one!” and “’amburger”

Recurring gags in TV shows are commonplace nowadays, and when one is spotted in a film (usually once it has spawned sequels) audience members, such as myself, get excited. The ‘good one’ joke began as an exercise Clouseau does to try and keep Ponton (Jean Reno) mentally and physically aware of danger. Clouseau assaults him when he’s not expecting it, and Ponton must defend himself, nearly always subduing his friend. Then you have the greatest scene in both movies, the accent coach training where Clouseau, attempting to mute his ridiculous cadence, fails to pronounce the word hamburger. If you haven’t seen it then you’re missing out on something special. The pronunciation of hamburger then reoccurs through The Pink Panther and its sequel and I still find it hilarious.

6. Jackie Chan nearly starred

Oh yes. Cato Fong, the Peter Sellers Clouseau’s faithful manservant was originally going to be in The Pink Panther, the role being offered to Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan. Obviously, the idea of Fong is now ridiculously insensitive and un-PC, so naturally Chan turned it down. The character of Cato was replaced with Ponton, and the character scrapped. Although a line – one that’s now clearly offensive – that Clouseau says to Cato in the Sellers movies was reused in The Pink Panther 2, except directed at someone else. 

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5. There are glaring blunders

Now, every film has one or two continuity errors and gaffes, but The Pink Panther and The Pink Panther 2 have far too many. I don’t want to be as nitpicking as that awful program on BBC Three, but there are a multitude of slip-ups. The transition from the first film to the second film is woefully inconsistent. The Pink Panther diamond itself was originally a ring, then it became just a gem in the sequel. Ponton’s accent goes from British to French and Chief Inspector Dreyfus is vice versa. There are far too many of these errors, but let’s not shun a perfectly enjoyable movie for this. Just revel in the sheer idiocy of the continuity supervisor.

4. Beyoncé is in the first one

In hindsight, the producers of The Pink Panther must be rather chuffed they got Beyoncé involved in the first film, as she appeared as the girlfriend of the deceased football coach who once owned the pink panther diamond. This is a role she would not be likely to accept now as she is a hip, no-nonsense mother. Nor he role in Austin Powers.

3. You get to see Alfred Molina in a tutu

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that as soon as Alfred Molina’s Randall Pepperidge said, “If he solves this case, I’m perfectly willing to run around for 24 hours wearing nothing but a tutu carrying a big, pink, fluffy handbag” then he would be wearing a tutu and carrying a big, pink, fluffy handbag for 24 hours by the end of the film. Some would argue that it’s sad really, that Molina, an extraordinarily good actor (see An Education) and philanthropist is reduced to this. There is one point when you see him roll his eyes and thinking why am I doing this? A bit like when Jon Pertwee was fighting off a plastic pterodactyl with a broomstick in a cupboard (in Doctor Who: Invasion Of The Dinosaurs).

2. The sequel features a Michael Jackson-small-child-out-of-the-window stunt

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed the similarities between the scene when Clouseau holds Ponton’s children out of the window, crying, “die, little piglets!” and Michael Jackson’s antics in dangling his infant son from a Berlin hotel window. Nobody knows why the late Jackson did it, and it’s probably best not enquire too closely. The scene in question is rather superfluous, and it followed a lengthy brawl in which Steve Martin and two little kids aimlessly savage an attractive film set to death. But on a positive note, you get to hear Steve Martin say karate master in a stodgy French accent so it ends up sounding like kaywayte masta.

1. Mrs Berenger

Veteran comedienne Lily Tomlin made a brief appearance in The Pink Panther 2 as the political correctness liaison officer, Mrs Berenger, who lectures Inspector Clouseau on why a lot of what he says and does is inappropriate. The fact that The Pink Panther 2 is a family film and that Berenger is talking about how Clouseau shouldn’t “ogle” women, for examples, means that it runs the danger of young children in the audience not getting the irony, but the scenes with Berenger are comedy gold, and both Tomlin and Martin bounce off each other’s dialogue convincingly.

Just take one scene where Mrs. Berenger is describing a scenario where a woman drops her pencil and bends to retrieve it (if you get my drift). Clouseau is told to remain emotionless, but instead convulses in what could only be described as some form of uncontrolled glee. Imagine if you were a seven-year-old watching this – you’d probably be spending the whole time laughing at Steve Martin thrashing about without actually understanding what was going on. Nonetheless, it’s a strong scene for the grown-ups in the audience, and one of the highlights of both movies.

The Pink Panther and The Pink Panther 2 aren’t fantastic films, but they’re far from unbearable. The personalities and humour of Steve Martin and Jean Reno largely underpin the whole affair but it’s also an enjoyable murder mystery flick for all ages. The humour is mainly slapstick but there are a lot of great one-liners and a couple of fantastic comedic characters.

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Unfortunately another movie has not been confirmed, so it seems like there will be no more fun outings for Steve Martin’s Inspector Clouseau. From one perspective it’s a shame. From another, less so.

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