Dir. Michael Hoffman, 89mins,US, 2012
Review by Matt Rogers
If the Beginner’s Guide to Photoshop posters didn’t make you enticingly aware that this knockabout farce was scripted by the Coen Brothers, you’d think it had been retrieved from the Ealing vaults and dusted off with only the settings updated. Riddled with innuendo, sequences in which characters dash trouserless around hotels and more “bugger me” and “sod it” moments than a Hugh Grant boxset, Gambit is a dated bore that is only made watchable by an enthusiastic cast that are clearly having more fun than the audience.
Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is an art curator coming to the end of his tether after years tolerating his obnoxious boss, Lionel Shahbander (Alan Rickman). Along with his partner-in-crime, Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay), he devises a scheme to con him into buying a fake Monet painting, a plot which involves the participation of a beautiful, eccentric Texas Rodeo Queen (Cameron Diaz) and her sand-kissed trailer park home. And it’s that kind of tangled web of unconventional narrative which the Coens do best; it’s just a shame that this is filtered through another director’s lens.
From the off, everything is just a bit too trite; with the sub-standard Have I got News For You opening credits and seaside postcard set-up. It rattles along at breakneck speed, and aside from the odd montage, doesn’t let you get to know any of the characters or why resentment has built up between them. It feels like you’ve tuned into the second part of a mini-series without having watched the first. On the plus side, there’s a nice little switcheroo after the initial set-up, and the opening section does feature a monkey riding on the back of a dog, but it’s a steep downward trajectory from there.
The script is entirely predictable and although a few smart zingers fly about – “An optimist is a man who hasn’t heard the news yet” – it’s not even close to the last noticeable Coen’s [perceived] failure in this romantic farce genre, Intolerable Cruelty. Relying on Carry-On style humour such as “major aroused” and “sticky points” might illicit the odd titter from the Sunday matinee crowd but it isn’t smart enough to sustain the running time, with eighty-nine minutes having never felt this long.
Firth, as clichéd as it may be to say this, continues to get the roles that Hugh Grant was being offered a decade ago, and is fine doing the embarrassed Englishman routine. Ditto Rickman, who has had this kind of slimy pantomime bad guy on autopilot since the Nakatomi Plaza and Nottingham countryside. Diaz is infectiously charming, with her heightened accent and obvious enthusiasm; her abilities as a comedic actress are now a given each time she gets to flex them.
With the kind of wordplay, scenarios and limited scope better suited to the stage, Gambit is an uninspired disappointment which doesn’t deliver on the promise of those involved. The whole thing is one big con.