This partial remake of the 1966 Michael Caine / Shirley MacLaine romantic caper (only character names and the heist conceit of the original film remain), scripted by the Coen brothers, attempts to channel the spirit of the screwball sixties romp with unappealing and muddled results. Firth is Harry Deane, a private art curator in the employ of Britain’s richest man and art collector Lionel Shabdanar (Rickman). Tired of being bullied and humiliated by Shabnadar, Harry hatches a scheme to sell his abusive employer a fake Monet painting, with the help of his crusty forger friend The Major (Courtenay), and a Texas rodeo queen PJ Puznowski (Diaz), the latter to pose as the granddaughter of the solider who liberated the picture from Nazis in WW2. The film sets out its stall promisingly enough with an animated title sequence accompanied by a jazzy Henry Mancini style score – although it’s best not to pay too close attention to it as it telegraphs the entire story. The plot soon descends into a charmless procession of ‘Carry on’-style innuendo, broad racial stereotypes, and contrived gags. Firth, who spends a good deal of the film trouserless, is game enough and miraculously manages to wring some laughs out of a script which somehow feels simultaneously under and overwritten; a scene in which Harry attempts to reason with a lion sees the actor displaying a lightness of touch worthy of Cary Grant. The remainder of the cast resort to tiresome mugging, with Tucci, playing an effete German rival of Harry’s, the biggest offender. Diaz’s character is little more than a collection of spunky Southern girl poses, with her character crucially failing to generate any chemistry with Firth’s. Director Hoffman, whose last picture ‘The Last Station’ was a dour drama about Tolstoy, fails to keep the narrative moving briskly along, and the botched pacing, along with the grim enforced zaniness imposed throughout, makes the film feel overlong, despite its mere ninety minute running time.
Gambit is released 21st November