Gambit is a loose remake of the 1960s crime caper comedy, this time starring Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and Cameron Diaz.
The acclaimed Coen brothers (True Grit, The Ladykillers) leave their script in the hands of director Michael Hoffman (The Last Station, One Fine Day).
Harry Deane (Colin Firth) seeks revenge on his domineering, self-centred and generally unpleasant boss, Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman), by tricking him into buying a forged painting.
Accompanied by forger Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay) and southern cow-girl PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), who provides the painting’s provenance, Deane’s simple plan quickly unravels in a series of embarrassing mishaps.
Pink Panther-esque opening credits set up Gambit as a movie of substantial flair and style. But while there are some attempts at quirky comic styling, including a somewhat intrusive, frothy score and unusual editing choices (in one transition a car drives over the previous scene), Gambit is far from innovative.
The Coen brothers’ script is piled high with innuendo and physical comedy. There’s a hilarious misunderstanding with two Savoy receptionists that revolves around ‘the Major’ and Harry is frequently punched in the face.
All of these gags are familiar, even old-fashioned, but Gambit’s capable and impressive cast keep them fun and fresh.
Alan Rickman is the real scene stealer, skillfully playing multiple versions of his own character, as seen through the eyes of Harry Deane. Colin Firth’s ruthless Harry is quickly revealed as both vulnerable and sentimental, surfacing as Firth’s trademark Brit with a stiff upper lip.
Diaz is the weaker link, less annoying than the trailer suggests, but noticeably lacking the gems of dialogue awarded to Rickman and Firth.
As the film plays out, there’s a sense that Gambit could be much funnier. The Coen brothers’ neat observations and quirky humour - of which cowboy monkeys are just one example - fade in to the background pretty early on.
Yet the story hangs together well, underpinned by astute and witty narration from the Major - ‘he was sprung for action and yet perfectly capable of blowing it completely,’ he says on the frequently incompetent Harry Deane.
Despite some obvious gaffs, the Coen brothers’ particular choice of English makes for vibrant dialogue. Gambit is also home to some nice twists, while the contrast between the farcical events and the simplicity of the plan is a neat comic device.
Gambit isn’t the best comedy this year has seen, dependent on innuendo, old-fashioned slapstick, much silliness and a spattering of schoolboy gags.
This isn’t ground-breaking comedy, but a capable cast make these laughs work. Gambit is an endearing film that might have benefitted in style and quirks from the Coen brothers’ stamp as directors.
Running Time: 89 minutes.