Director: Michael Hoffman
Cast: Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci
Plot: An art curator decides to seek revenge on his abusive boss by conning him into buying a fake Monet, but his plan requires the help of an eccentric and unpredictable Texas rodeo queen.
Genre: Comedy / Crime
Rating: PG13 for some suggestive content, partial nudity and a rude gesture.
IN RETROSPECT (Guest reviewed by Jason Lin)
It is not a given that a film will awe with highly acclaimed filmmakers’ titles affixed to its credit roll. Here’s a good example in Gambit, written by the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men, 2007) and directed by Michael Hoffman (The Last Station, 2009). Adding on to the honorary list are actors Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and Stanley Tucci who render lukewarm performances toward the contemporary take of the 1966 original.
With a play of the pen, Joel and Ethan Coen have switched the setting of the film to Britain (and Texas) where the trickery ploy to cheat and get back against a wealthy art collector who can’t determine art authenticity named Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman) begins with a Harry Deane (Colin Firth) as well as an animated opening sequence in Pink Panther fashion.
For certain peculiar reasons, Deane allures a P J Puznowski from Texas to be part of his ploy together with Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay) who is a master art duplicator. The essence of the film should largely rely upon the onscreen interaction between these three characters, but to one’s disappointment they fail to sizzle.
Less for a hilarious scene set within the middle act in a lavish Savoy Hotel that involves Firth roaming about the hotel bottomless. It is observed that critical screenwriting is the credit due for driving the segment to its full effect. To be honest, the screenplay by the Coens is technically sound and capable. It is a delight to witness how they induce plot points that connect to one another and how certain seemingly random details introduced will eventually make satisfying sense. These are hints of very capable screenwriters who do not introduce plot elements just for the sake of convenience.
However, the story and cast performances do little to inspire any further beyond the occasional laughing moments. Hoffman keeps an upbeat tempo to quickly flip along the story amidst overly sugarcoated dialogues. Some, if not most, of the conversational exchange feel excessively self-indulgent and redundant under opinion.
Throwing in a Texan accent sprouting Cameron Diaz as the individual with an exotic last name further complicates matters. This is where Tucci’s brief role as a competing art authenticator Martin Zaidenweber feels under-developed, which is a pity as Tucci’s German accent does wonders.
Summing up the film in further dismay is the questionable introduction of the stereotypical Japanese slapstick farce that begs viewers to ponder upon the integrity of the film material, which feels more in place in an exploitative slapstick comedy by lesser filmmakers.
Well, it is after all a rarity that the Coens write a film but not direct it. The filmmakers have certainly fared much better in their other works.
SCORE: 2 stars
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