Steve Martin’s ‘Pink Panther’ Remake Somehow Kept The Franchise Alive
Satiating America’s thirst for colorful diamonds and Frenchmen repeatedly falling down and hurting themselves, 2006 gave us a reboot of The Pink Panther. The new franchise unleashed Steve Martin as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, a part famously originated by Peter Sellers, while also featuring Jason Statham and Beyoncé, because, again, 2006.
Martin’s take on The Pink Panther (which he co-scripted) is far from perfect – it often drags and is crammed full of casual racism and misogyny – but Martin, despite employing a French accent that shockingly didn’t spark an international incident, is enough of an effortless comedic force that he capably keeps the movie chugging along.
Plus, it offered audiences a brief taste of what Clive Owen would have been like as James Bond. (The actor lost the gig to Daniel Craig just the year before, after being a rumored favorite to take on the role.)
This Pink Panther movie accomplished what no other Pink Panther movie had ever done without Peter Sellers; it didn’t fail miserably. The film was a modest hit and actually spawned a sequel. This was no small feat, as even before Sellers died, the franchise spent literal decades trying to make Pink Panther movies that could work in his absence. When Sellers turned down a third go as Clouseau, he was recast with Alan Arkin for 1968’s Inspector Clouseau. It … didn’t go well.
Sellers returned to the series for a few films in the ‘70s, then died and was replaced in Trail of the Pink Panther with a clip show full of deleted scenes that resulted in a lawsuit, at which point 2we got a non-Clouseau movie featuring a new dim-witted law enforcement agent, played by Ted Wass, in the notorious bomb Curse of the Pink Panther. And not one to let this particular dead horse go unbeaten, director Blake Edwards tried again with 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther, starring Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s secret Italian son. Audiences who had just seen Jurassic Park a few months earlier weren’t exactly wowed.
But as a reliable keystone of modern comedy, Martin could step into Sellers’ shoes with very little risk, not just because the bar for the series was lower than a Yorkshire Terrier by that point, but also, even if it didn’t work out, he could always go back to being Steve Martin afterward.
At the very least, Martin’s affability and modest success kept the franchise alive in the public consciousness … paving the way for the new, upcoming Pink Panther movie, reportedly about an “inspector who, thanks to a traumatic event, now has a pink panther for an imaginary friend” that’s in the vein of Sonic the Hedgehog, because we live in Hell.
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