Gambit (review)

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Gambit yellow light Colin Firth

I’m “biast” (pro): thought the trailer offered some mild hope

I’m “biast” (con): written but not directed by the Coens? not a good sign

I have not seen the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I was excited by the prospect of Gambit, because it features Alan Rickman as a funny villain and Colin Firth in nerd glasses and it’s written by Joel and Ethan Coen, and how could any of that go wrong? (I even generally like the comedic stylings of Cameron Diaz [What to Expect When You’re Expecting], here as a hick Texas cowgirl, so there’s that, too.) Yet somewhere along the draggy middle — after a beginning that was spritely only by comparison — I found myself oddly transfixed by how the stale the humor was. Oh, sure, there was a bit of moderate meanness in how Rickman’s (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) media tycoon and professional brute Lionel Shahbandar treats his mild-mannered art curator, Harry Dean (Firth: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)… but that turned out to be only in Harry’s imagination, part of his little fantasy about how he saw his scheme to con Lionel out of millions would kick off. (We never actually see Lionel misbehave anywhere near that badly, and given that Harry’s so sneaky, why should we believe his imagination?) It all has to do with a forged copy of a real Monet the bastard has been coveting for years, which Harry accidentally “found” in a Texas trailer park, which makes Gambit a sort of revenge con movie, with a hint of heist thrown in… and, again, coming from the Coen Brothers (True Grit), how could that be bad? Somewhere along the way, however, I remembered that I never did cotton to the Coens’ remake of The Ladykillers, and it was only later — after I marveled at how old-fashioned the too-long bedroom-farce bit toward the end is, like it was dusted off from the late 1960s and rushed out for us in the hopes we wouldn’t notice its mustiness — that I learned that they’d done it again. For this is, indeed, a remake of a 1966 Michael Caine film of the same name, and director Michael Hoffman (The Emperor’s Club) makes no more effort to bring it to new life than the Coens did. The cast — which includes the lovely Tom Courtenay (The Golden Compass) as Harry’s forger friend, and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games) doing his ethnic swish (which still hasn’t gotten old) as a rival art expert — is nice to watch. I just we could have as much fun as they seem to be having.

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