On the surface, Gambit has the right ingredients. It features a top-notch cast, a screenplay by the Coen brothers, and a breezy caper-comedy premise with lively banter and exotic locales. So what went wrong, then, with this loose remake of the Oscar-nominated 1966 film that saw its domestic release delayed by two years before finally being dumped into a handful of theaters without any fanfare or marketing campaign?
As it turns out, there are plenty of red flags in this ill-conceived effort that signal a waste of talent on both sides of the camera. The contemporary story doesn’t bear much resemblance to its predecessor. Harry (Colin Firth) is a British art curator who acts as the personal caretaker for the collection of boorish media mogul Lionel (Alan Rickman). Tired of the insults and abuse, Harry devises a scheme with his forger accomplice (Tom Courtenay) for revenge involving a fake Monet painting. Specifically, he recruits a rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) from a Texas trailer park, convincing Lionel that she owns the priceless original Monet, then arranging a deal to extort money from its sale. Complications ensue after Harry flies the naive Texan to London, where she doesn’t follow along with the plan.
Gambit feels like a first draft of a dusty script that was pulled from the bottom of a drawer without being polished prior to production. The film only sporadically flashes the wit and comic timing for which the Coens are known. It becomes apparent early on why their names aren’t attached as directors. The one-dimensional characters generally come off as smug and obnoxious, kind of like the film itself. It indulges in lazy Texas stereotypes, from accents to fashion, that lead to a parade of forced culture-clash jokes.
Firth (who made this film shortly after his 2010 Oscar win) and Diaz never achieve the chemistry that Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine did in the original. In fact, each of the main characters is so overloaded with quirks that they seem to be from different movies. As directed by Michael Hoffman (The Last Station), it’s a labored attempt at an old-fashioned globetrotting screwball farce that features some scattered laughs but mostly is just silly and forgettable.