Review by Stuart Barr
Stars Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz, Stanley Tucci, Tom Courtney, Cloris Leachman, Anna Skellern, Togo Igawa, Sarah Goldberg, Chillie Mo, Tanroh Ishida, Pip Torrens
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
Certification UK 12
Runtime 89 minutes
Directed by Michael Hoffman
Let’s be clear, the odds on my enjoying Gambit were poor from the start. The ‘caper’ movie is just above made for TV real life inspirational drama and evangelical apocalypse propaganda in my list of hated film genres. I’ve always detested them. Shaggy dog stories about ‘gentlemen’ thieves who only steal from moustache twirling villains, featuring an attractive blonde, cocktails, smarts suits, and always a final act twist. ‘Caper’ movies seem like vacuous escapism to me, and the notion of the gentleman thief is complete fantasy. No grit, all gloss. No depth, just a well buffed veneer. Even the classics of the sub-genre bore me, The Thomas Crown Affair (both versions), The Pink Panther (1964), To Catch A Thief, Ocean’s 11, absolutely hate them all.
So you can discount my opinion of this remake of a largely forgotten 1966 film if you like. However, you really shouldn’t, as Gambit is astonishingly poor given the talent involved. Directed by Michael Hoffman from a script by the Coen Brothers (despite sole writing credit many hands have contributed to the script since the Coen’s draft if the internet is to be believed), and starring Colin Firth fresh from the dual triumphs of a A Single Man and The King’s Speech. The cast is completed by Alan Rickman as the villain, and Cameron Diaz the blonde bombshell.
I was prepared to enjoy this, but it took precisely three notes of Rolfe Kent’s jaunty retro score accompanying an atrocious pastel shaded animated title sequence to realise I was in for a miserable 90 minutes. The plot is gossamer thin. Art expert Harry Deane (Firth), downtrodden and dejected after years of put downs by odious media tycoon boss Lionel Shahbandar (Rickman), plots revenge by perpetrating an art fraud upon him with the aid of retired Army Major Wingate (Tom Courtney) who is a skilled art forger. Shahbander is a Monet collector; Deane plans to convince him he has found a rare painting in the trailer of a Texan Rodeo performer and professional chicken plucker PJ Puznowski (Diaz). Puznowski’s grandfather liberated an Austrian castle where the painting was thought to have ended up in the possession of a senior Nazi, so there is some method to the madness.
Early in the film we are treated to Deane’s fantasy of the fraud going exactly to plan, then he tries to put it into practice and everything goes wrong. This leads to escalating farce, with trousers being lost, bellboys involved, and an hilarious argument between Firth and Diaz about the ‘old Major’ where onlookers think he means his penis. The comedy is broader than the Atlantic, and even resorts to a particularly useless fart gag. There is not a single character that is not a crass national stereotype, the uptight Englishman, the brash American blonde, the overly deferential Japanese businessman, the camp heel clicking German. It’s depressingly old fashioned and lazy stuff although the mix of Carry On level innuendo and jokes about Monet is a bit weird. Firth and Rickman are coasting, and Diaz is just awful with a hugely annoying exaggerated Texan drawl.
It all leads to an inevitable final plot twist which is telegraphed well in advance and the one surprise in the whole movie is on the poster. If you are planning a long haul flight in the near future, I guarantee you will get stuck watching this.