fri 31/10/2014

Gambit | Film reviews, news & interviews

Gambit

Star cast can't prevent the flatlining of Sixties caper remake scripted by the Coens

No spark: Alan Rickman and Cameron Diaz in 'Gambit'

It’s Gambit in name only. Producer Mike Lobell struggled for 14 years to bring the remake of this beloved caper to the big screen. In so doing, he has broken the new rule of Hollywood: Thou Shalt Not Remake Something Good, especially if you’ve gutted and purged the original story from its redolently good title.

The 1966 version of Gambit was written by experienced scribes Jack Davies and Alvin Sargent (the latter also penned The Amazing Spider-Man of 2012), based on a story by the ever popular TV writer Sidney Carroll. It starred Shirley Maclaine, Michael Caine and Herbert Lom and was one of the funniest, fastest and most delightful capers to appear on screen since the Cary Grant retired (strangely enough, in 1966).

Diaz looks as if she did her own hair

The long slog to the remake ended with producer Lobell, Michael Hoffman directing a script by the Coen Brothers (since when have they had the time?) and starring Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman…. and Cameron Diaz. Do you notice who doesn’t belong?

In the original - advertised with "Go Ahead: Tell the End —It's Too Hilarious to Keep Secret—, But Please Don't Tell the Beginning!" - Caine played a suave Cockney cat burglar who relies on exotic Eurasian dancer Maclaine to plot a fiendish art heist as she resembles the victim's late wife. A similar tang emerges here, save Diaz is a cowgirl and Firth is the desperate art curator seeking vengeance on his crappy boss Rickman.

As an outright homage, as it’s called, Gambit's script is twisty-turny but suffers from far too many “whoops there goes your trousers!” jokes, almost desperate editing and threadbare laughs. That said, it looks amazing. The production design is spectacular – no surprise with Stuart Craig at the helm. The wardrobe (Jenny Beavan) is choice, each crazy Texas belt buckle and nifty suit forwarding the storytelling in each scene. If anything is worth the price of the ticket, it’s the "world" of Gambit. This is a sleek, slick, gorgeous looker with a cast that would draw a crowd by ordering a latte at Starbucks. So what went wrong?

It is hard to know – and it's a bit unfair looking for a scapegoat when moviemaking is so fraught with danger anyway - but there seems to be a slip between the script and the edit. With a Coen brothers screenplay, one would think it would be hard to fail. All of the main players are masters at comic timing, as shown so notably by Firth (Bridget Jones, The King's Speech), Rickman (Die Hard, Robin Hood, Galaxy Quest) and even Diaz (There's Something About Mary), but here nobody who should riff off each other does. Thank God for Tucci and Leachman. Courtenay (pictured above right with Firth) knows just how to pitch his performance.

But it is virtually unfathomable to see any romantic spark between Rickman and Diaz (see clip below), who looks as if she did her own hair. Rickman and Firth can't conjure either resentment or knowing between them. Ultimately, the failure to work as an ensemble makes Gambit far from charming, although it tries very hard. It has all the pedigree of a winner but, like many racehorses, you can have the right mommy and daddy and still not win.

Women will covet Diaz's sparkling dress, however.

Opening gambit featuring Rickman, Diaz and Firth

It is hard to know where to lay the blame, but there’s a slip between the script and the edit somewhere

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2

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