Saturday, 1 December 2012



There's a little bit of comedy gold in this film that, in an alternate universe, would lead to a terrific BBC sitcom, but it doesn't involve any of the nominal quintet of star names. It doesn't revolve around downtrodden art curator Colin Firth, yeehawing Texas rodeo girl Cameron Diaz or multizillionaire media bastard Alan Rickman, or gentleman forger Tom Courtenay (formerly of the King's African Rifles) or even art expert Stanley Tucci and his comedy German accent. Sadly, bafflingly, the comedic gold actually belongs to two hilariously snooty receptionists at the Savoy Hotel in London played by Julian Rhind-Tutt and Pip Torrens and they're pretty much the best things in the whole movie: the rest of it is frankly a bit mediocre and unremarkable. Amusing, certainly, but not enough.

Though it's uncredited, Gambit is supposedly a remake of the 1967 caper in which Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine carried out a convoluted heist of Herbert Lom's art treasures; here the basic structure is vaguely the same but all the detail has been changed, and not necessarily for the better. This time Colin Firth wants to hustle his tyrannical boss Alan Rickman with a fake Monet (painted by Tom Courtenay), and inveigles Cameron Diaz in the scheme. As before, the first twenty minutes show the scheme as it should unfold; the rest of the film details how it all goes horribly wrong, with bedroom farce, Japanese stereotypes, dropped trousers, punches in the face, a random appearance of a lion, and awkward comedy swearing.

The last seems particularly misplaced: it makes the film feel like the writers have never set foot in this country, and the cast and director weren't interested in giving it any authenticity at all. In fact it feels as though it's been constructed solely for the American market who neither know nor care what the English language and the English people are really like: it comes across like one of those American sitcom episodes where the cast visit "London, England" and suddenly it might as well be set in Narnia. And that's surprising because it's credited to the Coen Brothers, who frankly you'd expect better of.

Weirdly, the opening credits play against a 60s-style cartoon version of half the plot, so you've already seen a lot of the film before it's even started: an odd decision in a movie based not just on comedy timing but unexpected plot twists. That said, it's still a reasonably amusing romp: Rickman's always fun to watch as the bullying villain of the piece, some of the comedy diversions are funny (especially at the Savoy), and it's certainly better than the unremarkable original.


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