British art curator Harry Deane decides to seek revenge on his abusive boss Lord Shabandar by conning him into buying a fake Monet (“Haystacks at Dusk”), but his plan requires the help of an unpredictable and eccentric Texas rodeo queen, PJ Puznowski.
A remake of Gambit has been mooted for several years. Producer Mike Lobell saw the original film at its London premiere in 1966. Several years later in 1997, Lobell, who was then working at Universal, was looking for a film to remake; he suggested Gambit and Universal approved it. He initially sent the original script to Aaron Sorkin to rewrite; however, despite being keen to work on the project, the success of Sports Night and more especially The West Wing meant that he couldn’t commit. After Sorkin pulled out, Lobell met English producer Andy Paterson, director Anand Tucker and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. Boyce produced a script moving the story to Japan; despite this Lobell didn’t think it was funny enough and decided to move on. Hearing that Joel and Ethan Coen were looking for some rewrite work between films, Lobell gave them the script and they produced a “radical overhaul”, moving the story to the United States. Despite having the Coen brothers on board the project remained in development hell. Initially, Alexander Payne was keen to work on it, reuniting with Election star Reese Witherspoon, but was reluctant to work on a script he didn’t write.
Witherspoon was keen to remain on the project but only if Lobell could get Mike Nichols or Robert Altman to direct. After the success of Gosford Park, Altman was keen to make another film in England, especially as Witherspoon was attached. However, prior to signing on, Altman backed out, feeling that the material was not suitable for him. Nichols wasn’t interested and the project stalled.
Bo Welch was then attached to the project with Colin Firth starring as Harry Deane, with Jennifer Aniston and Ben Kingsley attached. After the box office failure of Welch’s 2003 live action film of Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat Universal got cold feet and the project was again put into turnaround. Outside of the studio system Lobell moved between different financiers in a bid to get the project moving. One group, Alcon Entertainment, had Gerard Butler lined up as Harry Deane, with Richard LaGravenese directing. LaGravenese wanted a script polish, which took a long time, removing a lot of the work the Coen Brothers had done. Again the project was stalled.
Speaking in September 2008, Colin Firth, when asked about whether he would take the role of Harry Deane, said, “No! It’s a complete lie. It’s been on IMDb and just sitting there.” He also said: “The Coen brothers have written an absolutely brilliant script.” Others reportedly discussed for the remake included Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock.
The script was well known around Hollywood and in 2009 Lobell took a call from Roeg Sutherland at CAA. Sutherland knew of a fledgling production company, Crime Scene Pictures, with equity financing from Southeast Asia, who were looking for a marquee project for their new company and were keen to get Gambit made. In 2010, Doug Liman was reportedly considering directing the film. Although initially reluctant to take the project, Lobell persuaded Michael Hoffman to helm the film, and filming finally began in London in May 2011.
In February 2011, John Underwood of bestforfilm.com reported that Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz were set to star as art curator Harry Deane and steer roper PJ Puznowski, who conspire to sell a fake work of art to a collector. On May 15, 2011, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Stanley Tucci and Cloris Leachman had joined a cast that also included Alan Rickman and Tom Courtenay. The music is by Rolfe Kent, whose previous films include Up in the Air, Legally Blonde and Sideways.
The film received overwhelmlingly negative reviews. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of only 14%, with only 4 positive reviews out of 29. Typical of the reviews, Peter Bradshaw writing in a one-star review for The Guardian said “The plotting is a damp squib, with laugh-free scenes and setpieces that don’t go anywhere.”