Saturday 1 June 2019

Movie Review: Gambit (2012)

An attempted madcap comedy, Gambit musters up a few chuckles but otherwise collapses into a heap of stultifying gags.

Art curator Harry Dean (Colin Firth) is fed up with his boss, the insufferable London-based media tycoon Lord Lionel Shabandar (Alan Rickman). With help from art forger The Major (Tom Courtenay), Harry concocts a plan to "discover" a long lost Monet at the ramshackle Texas home of rancher PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), and have PJ sell it to Lionel for millions.

After some misadventures Harry and The Major secure the cooperation of PJ, but nothing else goes according to Harry's plan. Shabander is difficult to fool, and sets his eyes on PJ as a romantic conquest. The mogul also plots to replace Harry with snooty German curator Martin Zaidenweber (Stanley Tucci) while fending off a gaggle of rival Japanese businessmen.

A rough remake of the 1966 original, Gambit's troubled script was written by the Coen brothers (among others), and they were wise enough to leave it alone. Instead Michael Hoffman takes over directing duties, and he can do little to enliven proceedings. The film looks glossy enough and Firth's dry brand of humour saves some scenes, but the script and situational comedy settings are remarkably dated.

Gambit lives in a world where it is somehow supposed to still be funny that Harry Dean is repeatedly punched in the face; is functionally incapable of moving an office chair; gets his hand stuck in a jar; traps himself in a linen closet; is caught without his pants; and has to make an escape on the outside ledge of a hotel. In the early 1960s these cinematic gags may have been relatively fresh to some audiences in a Pink Panther type of way. Forty years later, Gambit is just oh-so-tired.

At least the London setting justifies the Englishness of Colin Firth and Alan Rickman. Californian Cameron Diaz goes all-in and distractingly over-the-top to portray a Texan, and Stanley Tucci stays firmly in caricature land as a German. The group of suited Japanese businessmen who are easily manipulated by food and drink is stereotyping at its worst.

A lion makes a late appearance as part of a ridiculous artwork security system, but Gambit is more of a meek house cat than wild beast.

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