It follows Colin Firth’s oh-so-lovable bumbling Harry Deane as he clumsily flits about trying to con media mogul Lord Lionel Shabandar out of a dramatically significant amount of money. Watch as he tries to fool the eccentric billionaire! Stare as the uncouth PJ Puznowski played by Cameron Diaz seems to undermine him at every turn! Gasp as the high-hat heavy soundtrack lulls you into a rat pack inflected coma, safe in the knowledge that you are kind-of watching Ocean’s Eleven but not really.
Or so they’d like you to think.
If the bold promotional material were to be believed it would seem that the fingerprints of the Coen Brothers are all over this. Admittedly, they have written the script but this is far from the cool, quirk of The Big Lebowski or the gritty, blow a hole in your stomach realism of No Country For Old Men. No, this is really quite different from those films for two reasons. Firstly, they didn’t direct this and secondly – it’s a bit rubbish.
It’s been 30 years since they last put their genius into the hands of someone else. Because as everyone knows, The Coen Brothers direct their own scripts. They also only direct good scripts too though, and The Ladykillers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve dropped this turkey and flogged it to the highest bidder.
So what we end up with is all a bit half cocked. A classic case of style over narrative encumbrance. Who needs a coherent opening when Alan Rickman can get his tackle out for laughs? Who needs to explain why Firth’s Deane thinks he’s a nudist? Come to this of it, why is Rickman naked at all? Sure, it’s kind of amusing in a ‘oh look it’s Alan Rickman’s face, oh, and his bum too’ sort of way, but that’s really the extent of humour on offer here (Rickman is soon followed by both Diaz and Firth in disrobing/trousering). The kind that tries to gently nudge you into fits of light amusement but actually just gives you an entirely insubstantial insight in to how wonderfully waxed Colin Firth’s legs are.
Even so. It’s fun to see the now Oscar winner back on broad autopilot (no really, it is) and Rickman is having a high old time of it all. So there’s that. Diaz, in the other hand, does grate. Her performance not managing to overcome her characters more annoying trait of speaking in ‘yeehaw’ homespun platitudes.
Almost propping up (I won’t say stealing) the show though are the two receptionists at the Savoy who play on the Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually vibe rather well. They even manage to raise a few laughs keeping the farce just over the tongue through cheek tipping point it sorely needed to pass through at points. Although there is certain fun to be found in the farce, you need to keep your hit rate up. Not only does it not but at points Gambit doesn’t even seem to even try. If you’re set on going screwball then go screwball. A lion and a bit o’ the old comedy Japanese does not an old school comedy make.
Everything about Gambit screams unfinished. From the script which the Coens obviously just wanted to get out of their hair to the direction which seems to fill gaps in the plot with fancy editing and upbeat swing music. Which is a shame, because on paper it could have been the hilarious new hit comedy caper we (and the marketing team) all wish it was.