Loosely based on the 1966 film of the same name, starring Michael Caine, Shirley Maclaine and Herbert Lom, the Brothers Cohen have revamped this screwball heist comedy, setting the main action in present-day London.
In best Michael-Caine style – including the specs – Colin Firth plays Harry Dean. A cultivated, well-tailored art curator who works for billionaire art collector Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman), one of the rudest men alive, who treats him abominably. Together with his old pal and master forger the Major (beautifully played by Tom Courtenay), he comes up with a plan to get his own back – and line his pockets at the same time – by conning Shahbander into purchasing a fake Monet.
For the scam to work, however, a third conspirator must be recruited: sexy, cowgirl PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz). The somewhat convoluted back-story requires PJ to pose as the woman whose grandpa freed the painting from the Nazis at the end of World War ll, since when it has been gracing the walls of the family trailer deep in the heart of Texas.
The combination of Firth’s straight-laced comedy, Diaz’s sexy quirkiness and Rickman’s standard withering sarcasm combine to make this a delightful, if somewhat simplistic comedy romp.
Following a flying visit to Texas, where Harry and The Major – two Brits totally overwhelmed by cultural differences – recruit PJ, the film returns to London, where the trio launches into their cunning plan.
The second act kicks off in London’s Savoy Hotel, where Harry has had to over-extend his credit card to pay for PJ’s hugely expensive suite, as part of the cover. Then moves into standard British farce mode, as Shahbander follows her back for a night cap, forcing Harry to make a swift exit out the window, clambering onto a succession of ledges and into other rooms, in the process of which he loses his trousers.
There’s a lack of sparkle between Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz, which is possibly due more to the structure than the performances themselves and, although the heist sequences are nicely done, director Michael Hoffman (MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, THE LAST STATIION) has staged them with little surprise or vitality. Still, Firth is perfect as the straitlaced British gent, completely at ease in the comedy sections, Rickman is his usual divinely sarcastic self, and Cameron Diaz, in some tight shorts, goes nicely over-the-top as the strident, sexy, rodeo queen on her first trip abroad. And then, lo and behold!, in the final act, a surprise turn by Stanley Tucci, playing a rival art expert with beard and fearsome German accent to boot – almost stealing the show.
GAMBIT is slick and polished, with decent performances, striking cinematography, (courtesy of Michael Balhaus) and a good score, but still somehow falls short of the comedic expectations audiences might have with such renowned screenwriters writers and stellar cast.
The film had its world premiere in London and had a moderate opening in the UK on November 21, but is yet to find US distribution.
GAMBIT – DER MASTERPLAN (USA, 2012); Genre: Comedy; Running time: 99 mins; Distributor: Concorde Filmverleih (Germany); Director: Michael Hoffman; Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen; Main cast: Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Pip Torrens, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Togo Igawa, Anna Skellern; Cinematographer: Florian Balhaus; Music: Rolfe Kent; German release date: 20. June