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Cinema: Also released 22/11/12

GAMBIT (12A)

MICHAEL Hoffman’s remake of the 1966 screwball caper about a cat burglar and showgirl who plan an elaborate heist has impeccable credentials.

Screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen have Oscars on the mantelpiece for Fargo and No Country For Old Men, and leading man Colin Firth deservedly collected a golden statuette for his exemplary work in The King’s Speech.

Co-star Tom Courtenay was twice shortlisted for Hollywood’s top honour for Doctor Zhivago and The Dresser, while Hoffman himself guided Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer to Oscar nominations in 2009 for the handsome historical drama The Last Station.

With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything, it seems, because Hoffman’s reworking is an unmitigated mess.

Firth loses his trousers for a protracted centrepiece sequence at the luxurious five-star Savoy hotel in London but Gambit loses its way well before then, wheezing and spluttering from one clumsy gag to the next.

Mild-mannered art curator Harry Deane (Firth) grows tired of the constant bullying of his obscenely wealthy boss, Lord Lionel Shabandar (Alan Rickman).

So he concocts an elaborate swindle to teach his employer a lesson.

With the help of loyal friend and forger The Major (Courtenay), Harry travels to Texas to befriend rodeo queen PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz) and her tobacco-spittin’ grandma (Cloris Leachman).

Harry asks the blonde beauty to pose as the owner of a priceless Monet called Haystacks At Dusk, which Shabandar is desperate to acquire as a companion canvas to the other Haystacks in his private collection.

The masterpiece is actually a fake painted by The Major but Harry is convinced he can pull the wool over Shabandar’s greedy eyes.

Thrilled by the prospect of a sizeable payoff, PJ travels to London to carry out her part of the plan and Shabandar is clearly smitten by her “invigorating lack of decorum”.

However, he is less convinced by the authenticity of the painting and calls in his own expert, the flamboyant Zaidenweber (Stanley Tucci), which throws Harry’s preposterous plan into disarray.

Gambit is a shambles.

We laugh out of pity and embarrassment as the script blunders from dream sequences that suggest Harry might actually pull off his hare-brained heist to Austin Powers-style nudity that protects Rickman’s modesty with a generously proportioned paperweight.

The only award Firth will be collecting is a dreaded Razzie, which salutes the worst in Hollywood film-making.

“This is absurd,” despairs Firth, standing half naked on the Savoy hotel ledge as he stares down on passing black cabs.

You said it, Colin.

STAR RATING: **

END OF WATCH (15)

OFFICERS Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) patrol the mean streets, trading macho banter in between shoot-outs with bad guys. An opening car chase, shot through a police windscreen, ends in bloodshed and the duo are re-assigned to another part of the city and told mock-seriously “not to kill anybody by the end of the week”. Like Sarge (Frank Grillo) and fellow cops Van Hauser (David Harbour), Orozco (America Ferrera) and Davis (Cody Horn), the buddies accept that their beat is riddled with drugs and the killing will never cease. When Brian and Mike uncover a trafficking operation run by a local cartel, they are marked for death.

STAR RATING: ***

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