To paraphrase Jay-Z, remakin’ ain’t easy. Too often we see modern filmmakers turn into coattail riders as they simply throw D-list talent at a remake of a beloved classic in a lazy attempt to merely cash in on the famous name, and in the process fail spectacularly.
Gambit is not one of those remakes. Oh it still definitely fails, but here we have top drawer talent recreating only a mildly popular film and somehow still botching it up for the most part.
Boasting a script from the Coen Bros, they of The Big Lebowski, Fargo and No Country For Old Men fame, based loosely off the Michael Caine led 1966 British crime caper of the same name, and with Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and Cameron Diaz headlining, Gambit certainly looks like it should be a big score. Unfortunately, much like in the film’s plot, the best laid plans often go awry, leaving you stuck on a ledge without any pants.
Firth plays Harry Deane, fine art curator to his brutishly bullying media mogul/art collector boss Lionel Shabandar (AlanRickman). After years of life at the business ends of Shabandar’s barbs with not much to show for it, Deane concocts a scheme to not only get revenge, but also the financial reparations he feels he deserves.
The plan is to fool Shabandar into buying a fake Monet painting created by Deane’s skilled forger friend, The Major (Tom Courtenay), and then for Deane to pocket the rather large sum of money. To pull off the heist though, he need’s the help of P.J. Puznowski ( Cameron Diaz), a rodeo riding American cowgirl whose grandaddy has just enough of a connection to the real painting to help sell the fake’s authenticity.
But Shabandar is not so easily fooled, and once Ms Puznowski starts getting a taste of the London high life thanks to Shabandar’s bulging bank account sponsored wooing, she starts trying to swing the deal more in her favour. Hilarity and madcap antics ensues.
Well, at least they should. But while Gambit starts off well enough, with a jocular, Pink Panther-like animated intro sequence that certainly evokes the jazz infused revelry of those 60’s crime capers, director Michael Hoffman (Soapdish, The Last Station) just seems to forget how to add all his ingredients together for maximum zing.
To be fair though, this is not the Coen’s finest work, lacking most of the oddball charm their own films normally possess. The zig zagging plots, funnily named character and wild misunderstandings are certainly all still there, but it’s as if somebody tried to make a forgery of their previous masterpieces and instead only used the broadest of strokes while huffing the paint fumes.
Hoffman and the Coens ask very little of their actors, who with the exception of Diaz (whose “gee shucks, yee haw!” cowgirl schtick gets very tired very fast), all seem to just be playing mild caricatures of themselves.
It has to be said though that unchallenging as it is, especially in the light of their recent more dramatic roles, Firth and Rickman have made a career out of these types of characters, and as such can still make them work. Their respective charms, spurred by Stanley Tucci’s brief but pleasantly surprising appearance as Harry Deane’s German art curator rival, are responsible for what zest Gambit has.
One particular sequence involving Dean, his lack of pants and a series of hotel room windows, is probably the film’s highlight, but just like the rest of it, it’s merely amusing at best, as you can only giggle at Colin Firth’s chicken legs for so long.
Barring these brief moments of slightly diluted levity though, Gambit simply shambles along, never trying to be anything other than average, except when it comes to an exceptionally botched “climactic ending” that ends up jumping the lion, never mind the shark. Only just rescued from complete failure by its leading men and a smattering of grin-inducing gags, Gambit is a heist film that goes and skips over the big score and heads straight for the lying low phase.
Last Updated: June 13, 2013