views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Gambit (12A) - World Première
Empire, Leicester Square
6th November 2012

★★★☆☆

We're no strangers to Leicester Square, being regulars to the Vue and Odeons there and the nearby West End theatres, like Wyndhams and The Harold Pinter. However, whether you stroll through the newly rejuvenated park on a daily basis or rarely visit this part of London, there is always something exciting about walking down a red carpet with countless paps and enthusiastic fans nearby.

Celebrity guests Antony Costa and Simon Webbe of noughties boyband Blue fame declared Colin Firth as their motivation for attending the première. A real pro at such events, we saw Firth himself move down the line of fans, signing autographs at speed, briefly pausing in front of outstretched iPhones then moving on to the next well-wisher, with an impressive clockwork efficiency. 17 years on from his Pride and Prejudice days, the man may have aged, but he's done so gracefully and still pulls a crowd. Well done, Livia Giuggioli.

In a departure from the usual effortless charm he exudes both in real life and on screen, Firth's character of Harry Deane is rather more Bridget than Mr Darcy. Daydream sequences show us the suave and sophisticated man he would like to be, but more often than not, Harry's plans seem to take an unexpected turn and he ends up punched in the face. Quite literally.

After some charming 2D animated opening credits which drop plenty of hints for the plot to come and set the pace of the film as a light-hearted comedy caper, we are immediately shown that Harry is treated badly by his wealthy employer Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman) and thus how Harry is justified in ripping him off. It's a sort of self-service employment tribunal award, if you like. Aided by talented artist friend Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay) and beautiful cowgirl PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), Harry begins plotting to sell Shahbandar a fake Monet for £12 million.

The premise is as simple as that - albeit with plenty of hiccups. At only 89 minutes long, we can't reveal too much without spoiling the film for you. Suffice to say, all three protagonists have their own agenda.

But as far as it goes, fans of the original 1966 Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine classic won't find much to entice them in here. As they did with their reimagining of the Ealing classic The Ladykillers, Joel and Ethan Coen don't match their sensibilities with the source material. At least that had the benefit of the Coen's idiosyncratic directing, which worked better than Michael Hoffman's here.

Some of the jokes elicit well deserved chuckles, but others are just too easy, such as the mistaken innuendo between Harry and the hotel staff at The Savoy. And whilst Firth and Diaz are given layers to work with, the rather fantastic Rickman, along with several other actors, is lumbered with a more two dimensional role. Given the brothers' previous superb spot-on characterisation in the cracking True Grit and sharp gender warring in the woefully underrated Intolerable Cruelty, this just seems, well, a tad lazy. The cast are top notch, certainly. There's still something about Cameron and her leading men. Which leads us to conclude the weakness lies in the script and direction which are fairly middle of the road.

Producer Mike Lobell wanted to remake the original of Gambit some 15 years ago, but the project never quite gathered enough interest and while the concept is promising and ripe for a revival, it's a real shame the script isn't that tiny bit stronger. Especially since there is so much good elsewhere.

Rickmaniacs will be pleased to hear that there is a fair dose of male nudity in the film. And as promised by Edith Bowman on the red carpet, Firth's legs do indeed feature prominently in all their glory. For a bit of silliness, a bit of eye candy and a few laughs, you could do worse. This is the sort of film you could take your mum to see and a nice film for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps the red carpet raised our expectations too high, but we were hoping for more.

Gambit was released in the UK on 21st November 2012.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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