A script by Joel and Ethan Coen. Caper movie material from the original 1966 Michael Caine movie of the same name. Direction by Michael Hoffman (Restoration), coming off the Oscar-nominated The Last Station. A cast including Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz, and Tom Courtenay, with Stanley Tucci and Cloris Leachman in supporting roles.
How could Gambit go so wrong? Thoughts of The Ladykillers – another remake, and consensus pick for the worst film the Coen Brothers have made (in my opinion, their only bad film) – rang in my mind throughout. But this is much worse.
Saving the film from complete embarrassment is the fact that it isn’t a straight remake – only the premise, and some of the character names and plot particulars, have been lifted from the original. That film, directed by Ronald Neame, wasn’t an incomparable masterpiece, but at least this one doesn’t have to directly compete with it.
Otherwise – wow. The glossy-bland sheen of workmanlike professionalism, the one-note ‘comedy’ performances, the generic caper-movie construction, the obvious ‘clever’ twists. Oh, and dick and fart jokes. This is a movie lacking ambition in almost every respect, made by people who simply didn’t care to invest the effort.
Firth is Harry Deane, and Courtenay is his associate Major Wingate. Harry isn’t a cat burglar, as played by Caine in the original film, he’s just a schlub who wants to rip off his boss Lionel Shahbandar (Rickman) because, uh, Shahbandar isn’t a very nice guy.
The first fifteen minutes of Gambit run through, in explicit detail, Harry’s not-very-intricate plan, which involves a Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) and a fake Monet painting that Harry – Shahbandar’s art expert – will verify, conning his boss into a fraudulent purchase.
The rest of the film doesn’t really chart the execution of the plan so much as just meander, until the final fifteen minutes when the plan finally kicks into action. For a good hour or so, Gambit just plods along with nary a thought in its mind; the filmmakers must have intended the comedy to kick in at some point, but they’ve left out the jokes.
There is precisely one segment in Gambit that had me mildly entertained: for some reason, Harry decides to steal a Ming vase from the hotel the Diaz character is staying at, leading to a sequence that finds him in and out of hotel rooms and on the ledges of windows. Minus his pants.
I was amused not with the Pink Panther-lite material, but for the fact that this sequence goes on for at least 15 minutes, and has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie; clearly, someone was trying to have some fun here, which is more than can be said about the rest of the film.
Gambit has received an almost unanimously negative reception from both critics and audiences, and distributors still don’t have plans for a US release, months after the film has opened in foreign territories. Red flags all around. The Coen Brothers name has been a mark of quality throughout the years, but this is easily the worst project they’ve been connected with.