Director: Michael Hoffman
Cast: Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman
Running Time: 89 mins
Release: Nov 21st
Directed by Michael Hoffman (One Fine Day) from a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men) Gambit is a loose remake of Ronald Neame’s 1966 art heist caper of the same name. As remakes go though this is a particularly cheerless effort. While Neame’s film featured the luminous talents of Michael Caine and Shirely MacClaine, Hoffman’s gives us the energy saving Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. Of their eighteen produced screenplays to date, the Coens have directed all but one. Crimewave (1985), co-authored by its director Sam Raimi, being the sole exception. Gambit then is something of an anomaly in the brothers’ career, but unfortunately that’s as far as the intrigue stretches. On the surface the film bears many of the Coens’ trademark touches (Cameron Diaz’s character is named PJ Puznowski for one) but scratch a little deeper and the whole thing smacks of a fake.
Colin Firth plays Harry Deane, bumbling art curator to Alan Rickman’s boorish Lionel Shahbandar. Deane hates his employer, so together with his trusted ally, the expert forger Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay), he devises a plan to liberate Shahbandar of several million pounds. Deane’s con centres on the discovery of a very rare—and very fake—Monet which he must then convince Shahbandar to buy. In order to do so, Deane has to first travel to Texas to solicit the assistance of rodeo queen PJ Puznowski (Diaz). After Puznowski signs on she is flown to London, and Deane’s plan is set in motion. Complications promptly ensue but hilarity seems to have been lost in transit.
Of the cast, Firth equips himself well enough and demonstrates a hitherto unseen gift for physical comedy. Similarly Diaz tries to have fun with her part but is given little to play with beyond a broad accent. Few do morose indifference better than Alan Rickman but even he seems resigned to the hollowness of the enterprise. Meanwhile Tom Courtenay appears only sporadically despite the fact that he narrates the film.
A staple of sixties cinema, the art heist caper was typically smart, sexy and sophisticated. However, there is little evidence of that here. The humour, in as much as there is any, seems more suited to a parody of the genre than a homage, while the Carry-On Coens innuendo-laden dialogue veers a little too close to the The Fast Show’s ‘tailors’ sketch at times. Of course, this being a heist there is a twist, but it is so predictable and executed with such little panache that it barely registers. In the end, sadly, it is the audience who are left feeling swindled.