Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz and Alan Rickman team up for a very loose remake of Ronald Neame’s breezy 1966 caper thriller Gambit (opens in new tab), the light-hearted but intricately plotted heist movie in which Michael Caine’s cockney crook drafts Shirley MacLaine’s Eurasian nightclub singer into his elaborate scheme to steal a priceless statue from Herbert Lom’s reclusive billionaire.
For the remake, Firth bears the same name as Caine’s character, Harry Deane, but this time he’s a straitlaced art curator whose aim is to con Rickman’s loathsome media tycoon, Lionel Shabandar, into buying a fake Monet. To pull off his plan he needs to recruit Diaz’s Texas rodeo queen, PJ Puznowski, to pose as the painting’s owner, whose GI grandfather supposedly liberated the artwork from Hermann Goering’s collection at the end of World War II.
As with the original, we get to see two versions of the crime - Harry’s slickly executed dream scheme, followed by the messier reality. Despite these similarities, the remake strikes a very different tone to its predecessor, aiming at 1960s Pink Panther-style farce rather than 1960s caper thrills. So expect to see Firth’s Harry losing his trousers, rather than donning a cat burglar’s gloves.
Directed by Michael Hoffman (The Last Station (opens in new tab)), the film does have its funny moments, some of them supplied by Pip Torrens and Julian Rhind-Tutt as the deadpan duo on the concierge desk at the Savoy hotel. Firth turns on the charm as the emotionally uptight Harry, amiably abetted by Tom Courtenay as his ex-army major accomplice, and Diaz pulls off her aw-shucks cowgirl shtick. But Rickman is largely wasted as the tycoon and the script too often falls back on fart jokes and tired national stereotypes (Stanley Tucci as und heavily accented German art expert, for example).
Given the calibre of those involved, this Gambit can’t help but disappoint. The screenplay bears the signature of the Coen Brothers, but from the thinness and laziness of the writing I reckon it must be a forgery.
In cinemas from Wednesday 21st November.
A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
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