Published on August 27th, 2015 | by The Horse
Nothing to do with the X-Men character I’m afraid – you’ll have to wait ’til 2016 for that origin story.
This Gambit is a loose remake of the 1966 Shirley MacLaine / Michael Caine crime caper. With a screenplay by The Cohen Brothers and a strong cast on board, it all sounds pretty cool.
Thus, we have socially awkward English art curator Harry Deane (Colin Firth) conning his filthy rich and often naked boss (Alan Rickman) into buying a fake of a long-lost Monet painting, “Haystacks at Dusk”, using a tempting Cameron Diaz-shaped lure.
The plot is a convoluted load of cobblers involving a Texan rodeo queen, some measure of getting caught with your trousers down, maybe some lessons learned, and a lion. Because lions.
First Gambit aims for high English farce and misses. It lacks polarising characters and you’re never quite sure who to root for. Not to be deterred, it then goes for cunning heist caper and falls short. Blighted by limp direction, the disjointed plot never engages.
The film was subject to many rewrites to secure a lower rating and this seems to have been what neutered it. Given more bawdiness and criminality, it might have been the riotous prospect the cast were probably all expecting.
Or, with a load chopped out and a shorter running time, it might have made a passable late-night BBC comedy.
What we’re left with is a talented roster of players working too hard for too little.
Both men inevitably fall for the charms of the leading lady and obviously one will end up with her, but neither deserve her. Diaz’s PJ Puznowski really should have sacked them both off and disappeared with the Monet money.
Alan Rickman as the “evil” boss Shabandar (?!) is a bit of an arse, but not dislikable enough to be an infuriating antagonist. I’d watch Rickman do just about anything (as long as he kept his pants on), but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying his character much.
It’s like he has to remind himself he’s the baddie and destined to lose. Shabba’s intermittent acts of douchebaggery feel out of character, and all he’s left with is hammy grimacing.
As PJ Puznowski (by now you’ll have noticed they all have fucking stupid names), all Cameron Diaz has to do is charming Americana trailer-trash. And so she does, apart from the accent, which even to someone who’s never been to Texas seems farcically overdone.
As the plot’s honeypot, Diaz must deliver titillating moments too – her lingerie and cowboy boots combo reminiscent of her retina-searing reveal as Tina Carlyle in 1994’s The Mask. But Diaz aside, Gambit lacks most of The Mask‘s sexiness and all of its madcap lols.
Firth is an odd combination of measured and wet, which in small measure is what such a role traditionally requires (he’s English, remember), but there’s not enough besides to sympathise with. Mostly just hapless and exasperating, Harry Deane is neither plucky underdog nor crafty mastermind.
The highlight is Stanley Tucci as Geman art “expert” Martin Zaidenweber, a performance that seems to owe a great deal to Sacha Baron-Cohen. The real crime is his character didn’t get more screen time. If anything good could come of this movie it would be a spin-off about Zaidenweber’s wacky art adventures.
At last, the implausible denouement leaves the viewer bemused – we’re left with a disappointing knockoff rather than a carefully crafted original.