Despite its stellar cast, OLLIE BARTLETT found little to like in this “sadly forgettable” Coen Brothers remake.

Alan Rickman cameron diaz coen brothers Colin Firth Gambit julian rhind-tutt ladykillers

If you’ve never seen The Ladykillers (2004), you’d be forgiven for getting excited about a remake of another classic British comedy scripted by the Coen Brothers. Regretfully, since I did fork out some hard-earned cash to see The Ladykillers, my cautious optimism ahead of seeing Gambit was grounded largely in its three leading stars: Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and Cameron Diaz.  Surely they wouldn’t appear in anything without first checking it had a snappy script and at least some solid comic potential? Right?

Firth plays Harry Deane, an impoverished art curator who is constantly abused by his obnoxious boss Lord Lionel Shabandar (Rickman).  With the assistance of a talented painter (Tom Courtenay) and a Texan rodeo queen called PJ Puznowski (Diaz), Harry attempts to solve his dire financial straits and exact revenge in the process by tricking Shabandar into purchasing a forged Monet painting.  However, Harry doesn’t quite have the aptitude for criminal capers, and PJ proves to be more of a loose cannon than he anticipated.  As Harry tries to regain control of the situation, he has to battle with a rival art curator, aggressive neighbours, oleaginous hotel staff and occasional periods of trouserlessness.

I still hold a huge reserve of goodwill towards the central three as actors, but the lacklustre plot and uninspired script don’t give them the chance to shine.  Firth is great as the hapless but noble underdog -although that isn’t exactly a stretch for him.  Diaz is charming and in great shape as the female lead, but never quite convinces as a Texan cowgirl.  Rickman is the most squandered in his role and he’s played much wittier and more intimidating villains in other films (having been virtually typecast as them for a large chunk of his career).  His character is meant to be a loathsome boor, but the film could have been substantially funnier by playing to his strengths.

The farcical highlight of the film comes in the second act, when Harry has to sneak around (and outside of) the Savoy Hotel, evading various characters along the way.  This scene features a brilliant supporting role by Julian Rhind-Tutt as the hotel concierge who happens to catch Harry in all sorts of compromising positions.  Nevertheless, the fond memories of that scene were swiftly erased by the reappearance of some extremely grating Japanese stereotypes, the film’s most misjudged element.  The heist isn’t very compelling either and the whole movie only clocks in at 89 minutes. I feel the filmmakers could have taken a bit more time to develop the characters or add some real jeopardy to the final caper.

In the end, Gambit is harmless fun, and worth seeing if you fancy an unchallenging comedy flick between blockbuster extravaganzas.  Otherwise, it’s sadly forgettable – unless you like seeing Colin Firth get punched in the face or Alan Rickman in the nude (in which case, your bizarrely specific dreams have all come true).