Gambit is an old fashioned comedy caper set around the heist of a Monet painting. With the wealth of talent involved – Firth, Diaz, Rickman, and scripted by the Coen Brothers – it’s a film crying out to be loved, but ultimately disappoints with its lukewarm material on offer.
The Coen Brothers name has been so blazoned over all the publicity posters, you might have thought they were the directors. In fact, this is the first film they have scripted and not directed since Crimewave in 1985 and probably for good reason.
Directing duties were left to renowned Anglophile, Michael Hoffman (who previously directed The Last Station). The film is meant to be homage to the original 1966 Gambit film with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine and the films of Blake Edwards from the same era.
The plot revolves around Harry Deane (Firth) a mild mannered long suffering arts curator who has been planning his boss’s comeuppance for quite some time. His boss, Lord Shabandar (Rickman) is crude and rude, but happens to be one of the richest men in the UK and an ardent art collector.
Harry’s plan involves art forger, the Major (Tom Courtenay) and Texan part time rodeo queen and part time chicken plucker, PJ Puznowski (Diaz) whose grandfather may or may not be linked with the last known whereabouts of the Monet painting, Haystacks at Dusk.
It starts promisingly with a lengthy dream sequence showing how the perfect heist would work. It also uses an interesting plot device where Cameron Diaz doesn’t actually say a word at all for almost the first quarter of the film. This is lifted straight from the original 1966 Gambit. The trouble starts when reality takes over; you expect the laughs to come thick and fast for a screwball comedy, but what you get is mediocrity, a script lacking in charm and energy and action decidedly stuck in middle gear.
There is a lot of physical humour involved, most of which involves Colin Firth in his pants tiptoeing around the Savoy Hotel. In an era when American Pie films seem dated, the Coen Brothers really needed to update their Blake Edwards homage rather than just copy.
It is a fine line between tongue in cheek stereotyping and lazy characterisations and we’re afraid that Gambit borders on the latter. We have the white trailer trash American, the fox hunting British lord, the karaoke loving duplicitous Japanese and not forgetting the camp designer played by Stanley Tucci, a cross between the character he played in The Devil Wears Prada and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno. The actors have declared the film a “comfort” film, inoffensive and charming. It would be interesting to see how the film plays out with those demographics mentioned above.
Crucial to a film like this is the chemistry between the leads. Sadly there’s more fizzle than sizzle between Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz. The problem doesn’t lie with the actors but more with the weak script, so they had very little to work with and characters the audience just didn’t care for.
Thankfully at a running time of just 89 minutes, it’s breezy enough for fans of Colin Firth’s legs or Alan Rickman’s general nakedness.
Released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 21 November 2012 by CBS Films.