The original 1966 Gambit is a crime comedy with a small but brilliant cast, including cinema greats Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Almost fifty years later, a remake comes to the big screen with an equally star-studded list of talent, starring Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and Cameron Diaz in a script written by the Coen brothers. On paper, there is initial hope for this as a very successful feature, however, that hope is soon quashed by Gambit’s predictability, a ubiquitous lack of charm, and inferiority in adaptation.
Harry Dean (Firth) works at a media company owned by Lionel Shahbandar (Rickman), where part of Dean’s job description is determining whether Impressionist paintings – of which the boss has a penchant for – are genuine or fake. The boss is branded a ‘wanker’ who treats Dean with contempt, consequently causing the latter to contrive to make Shahbandar pay, literally, twelve million times. This supposedly goofproof plan requires a forged painting created by Dean’s friend and Puznowski (Diaz, personally lowering the entire escapade), a stereotypical Texan rodeo girl who gives a brief, equally false history of how her ancestor acquired the painting. Unsurprisingly, as Gambit progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious how these well laid plans will go awry.
The great pity of Gambit is how lacklustre everything is. The main cast interact with barely a glimpse of chemistry, and the possibilities of sexual or physical romance between Puznowski and Dean/Shahbandar is painfully unrealistic. Not only do the male characters’ appearances conflict with her in a superficial manner, but her simplistic, trailer life, loud American personality is forced to fit and complement these British businessmen. It is all a bit too ridiculous. Although Shirley MacLaine (in the 1966 original) had an exceptionally brash attitude, it was not a cheapened accompaniment. Despite Shahbandar’s party which could rival one held by Jay Gatsby, the director’s bland choices of setting pale in comparison to the extravagance of those owned by the surprisingly reclusive 1966 original.
Regardless of one or two (and no more) chuckles, Gambit has poorly altered too many aspects of Ronald Neame’s original and, in consequence, loses the essential captivation of the audience. The suspense has been completely eradicated and Harry Dean’s motives are less complex; there is somewhat of a twist at the end of Hoffman’s current Gambit which encourages amusement, but leaves nothing to be reconsidered as opposed to the less selfish Dean which Caine portrays.
Without seeing the original film, this piece still proves to be predictable and repetitive; Gambit even manages to directly repeats the set-up of one scene twice, appearing to be done purely as a means of filling time, with no progression of plot. Although there should be a distance in their origins and personality, these male characters alongside Puznowski convey an unashamed and total absence of commonalities which is far too absurd.
It is flaws such as this which cause a desperate questioning of why the Coen’s talents are not fully conveyed, why the potential of Rickman and Firth (two popular and beloved actors) is not reached, and why Diaz was cast alongside these actors. These are the questions which define Gambit as a disappointment created by a number of brilliant minds. Lovers of Firth and Rickman will leave the cinema satisfied nonetheless, but in actuality it is a great shame, and should not be taken as a testament to the talents of many who were involved. Better luck next time, boys.