Harry Deane (Colin Firth) and Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay) recruit Texan rodeo queen PJ (Cameron Diaz) to con Dean’s boss into buying a forged Monet painting, but things do not go quite as they planned.
It is hard to imagine, having seen this latest film, but Gambit is actually a remake of the 1966 Michael Caine film of the same name. The Brothers Coen were brought in to rewrite the film and they completely overhauled it, but even with their names attached it languished in development hell. It is easy to see why.
Even from the opening credits – which appear to have taken a cue from Four Rooms – it is clear that Gambit is trying to ramp up the caper aspect of the film. The story should be rather simple and, as Firth’s character explains it, it is. However, when Cameron Diaz’s rodeo queen with a terrible accent comes on the scene, everything goes to hell. Even with it’s complications, however, it is easy to see the direction that Gambit is heading in, and it never manages to surprise the audience.
Colin Firth as Harry Deane spouts overly flowery language and seems to think that stealing a Ming vase from a hotel and climbing around on the outside of buildings is a good idea. Alan Rickman as Lionel Shahbandar is horrible for absolutely no reason and is given the unfunny quirk of being a nudist. It is said, early on in the film, that Tom Courtenay’s Major Wingate and Harry Deane are friends but they refer to one another in formal terms for the entire film, which is confusing and rather annoying. Cameron Diaz is getting a bit long in the tooth for playing rodeo girls who play with skipping ropes to keep fit, and her ‘Texan’ accent is way off and incredibly irksome.
It seems as though the Coen Brothers came up with the notion to rewrite Gambit when they were working on Intolerable Cruelty, and the film certainly comes off as a watered down version of the same, without any of the quirks or oddities that make Intolerable Cruelty work. The script may have been a draw for the big name actors who appear in the film, but they are sadly let down by Michael Hoffman’s misguided direction.
Michael Hoffman obviously decided to play up the high jinks and antics of the film, but without the light touch of the Coen Brothers as directors, the absurd story goes from what could have been sublime to ridiculous, and strips away and feeling the audience had about the characters in the process.
In all, Gambit is a misguided and absurd attempt to make a Coen Brothers film with a Coen Brothers script, but without the Coen Brothers. Hoffman is heavy handed, and great actors give hammy and over the top performances.