Coen Brothers Serve Up Shambles Despite Stars

Oxford Mail: GAMBIT: "With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, what could possibly go wrong?" GAMBIT: "With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, what could possibly go wrong?"

GAMBIT (12A)

Comedy/Romance. Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman. Director: Michael Hoffman

Michael Hoffman’s remake of the 1966 screwball caper about a cat burglar and showgirl who plan an elaborate heist has impeccable credentials.

Screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen have Oscars on the mantelpiece for Fargo and No Country For Old Men, and leading man Colin Firth deservedly collected a golden statuette for his exemplary work in The King’s Speech.

Co-star Tom Courtenay was twice shortlisted for Hollywood’s top honour for Doctor Zhivago and The Dresser, while Hoffman himself guided Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer to Oscar nominations in 2009 for the handsome historical drama The Last Station.

With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything, it seems, because Hoffman’s reworking is an unmitigated mess. Firth loses his trousers for a protracted centrepiece sequence at the luxurious five-star Savoy hotel in London but Gambit loses its way well before then, wheezing and spluttering from one clumsy gag to the next.

Mild-mannered art curator Harry Deane (Firth) grows tired of the constant bullying of his obscenely wealthy boss, Lord Lionel Shabandar (Alan Rickman).

So he concocts an elaborate swindle to teach his employer a lesson.

With the help of loyal friend and forger The Major (Courtenay), Harry travels to Texas to befriend rodeo queen PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz) and her tobacco-spittin’ grandma (Cloris Leachman).

Harry asks the blonde beauty to pose as the owner of a priceless Monet called Haystacks At Dusk, which Shabandar is desperate to acquire as a companion canvas to the other Haystacks in his private collection.

The masterpiece is actually a fake painted by The Major but Harry is convinced he can pull the wool over Shabandar’s greedy eyes.

Thrilled by the prospect of a sizeable payoff, PJ travels to London to carry out her part of the plan and Shabandar is clearly smitten by her “invigorating lack of decorum”.

However, he is less convinced by the authenticity of the painting and calls in his own expert, the flamboyant Zaidenweber (Stanley Tucci), which throws Harry’s preposterous plan into disarray.

Gambit is a shambles.

We laugh out of pity and embarrassment as the script blunders from dream sequences that suggest Harry might actually pull off his hare-brained heist to Austin Powers-style nudity that protects Rickman’s modesty with a generously proportioned paperweight.

The only award Firth will be collecting is a dreaded Razzie, which salutes the worst in Hollywood film-making.

“This is absurd,” despairs Firth, standing half naked on the Savoy hotel ledge as he stares down on passing black cabs.

You said it, Colin. **

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