For every poignant, inspired role that Colin Firth fills, there is a silly, fruity character countering it.
For every poignant, inspired role that Colin Firth fills, there is a silly, fruity character countering
it. Occasionally these flustered, fancy Hugh Grant-alikes work well, usually
within the context of a period drama or a Richard
Curtis romp. Occasionally they will be a fantastic flop, as is tragically
witnessed in Michael Hoffman’s
remake of Gambit.
Originally played by Michael
Caine in the 1966 version, Firth’s Harry Dean is a doormat in a good suit,
skirting resentfully around ruthless boss Alan
Rickman’s ego as he plots revenge. Inexplicably wealthy and aggressively
shallow, Rickman’s Lionel Shahbandar is theatrically all that a baddy should be
minus the cunning allure that comes so naturally to him.
In turn, Cameron
Diaz’s bleach-toothed accomplice fits her form comfortably, with heavy
doses of sass seeping out from under her cowboy hat. Hired to help deceive avid
art obsessive Shahbander by convincing him that she’s taken possession of an
original Monet, Diaz’s PJ shines on the charm whilst Harry stumbles around in
the background, mostly trouserless, trying to keep operations running smoothly.
In the funnier scenes of Gambit, Firth’s charisma is
radiant, flitting from dilemma to dilemma with ease, notably in a
well-choreographed sequence set in the Savoy. It’s only in these rare moments
that he’s granted any credibility, with the stammering fool that makes up 80%
of Harry’s character sadly dominating the narrative.
From start to finish, Gambit is a buffet of racial
stereotypes. Firth himself is an overworn personification of the humble Brit,
aired out so many times that each stutter and apology is a pull on one’s
patience. Diaz is a bloated caricature of Western America, winking and
yeehaw-ing her way through whatever life throws at her, both highlighting how
uptight the English can be whilst blinding audiences with her garish traits. Stanley Tucci appears as a German rival
curator whose throat-clearing accent will have you squirming, and the wealthy
Japanese businessman competing for the Monet prize, whilst treated as a joke
within a joke, comes across as pretty offensive.
With a bit more confidence and sass, Gambit could’ve passed
as a camp, brash heist film and, with the Coen Brothers penning the screenplay,
a little credibility could even be mustered. Instead we’re faced with 90
minutes of deflated clichés, thinly-stretched characters and a sombre account
of what should be a fun story. This should surely buy Firth a year’s worth of