Art expert Harry Deane (Firth) enlists a forger (Tom Courtenay) and a Texan rodeo champion (Diaz) in a plot to defraud his odious employer, media baron Lord Shahbandar (Rickman). However, despite meticulous planning, the caper seems to veer off course.
This loose remake of the 1966 Michael Caine-Shirley MacLaine-Herbert Lom entry in that decade’s sophisticated heist cycle opens with Pink Panther-like cartoon credits and a busy, burbly score to indicate that it is supposed to be funny. The approach is slightly too forced, which is a shame since the cast are strong enough to let us make our minds up about how amusing they are. Practised British underplayers Colin Firth, Tom Courtenay and Alan Rickman (who compete in dryness) are set against pull-out-all-the-stops Americans Cameron Diaz (who is still obliged to strip down to skimpy underwear in most of her films) and Stanley Tucci (as a funny foreigner).
The high concept of the original is the contrast between the protagonist’s smooth fantasy of a perfect crime with the more farcical reality of its execution. For instance, in the hero’s imagination, his Texan aide is a silent woman of mystery, but in actuality she won’t shut up and never sticks to the plan. The Coen brothers’ script retains this gag, but swiftly skips through the imaginary crime set-up, as if it were a trailer for the main attraction, to get to the more bumbling version — though it withholds key information and plays unfair in order to set up some third-act twists that undermine the whole premise of the movie. Firth starts out homaging Caine with his horn-rimmed cool but soon defaults to his usual repressed British clod mode, spending an inordinate amount of time teetering on a ledge of the Savoy hotel without his trousers.
This sort of thing needs a very light touch — frankly, lighter than Ronald Neame managed in 1966 — and certainly more adroitness than Michael Hoffman (The Last Station, One Fine Day) displays here. There are things to like, mostly sidelong looks or wry line-readings from Courtenay and Rickman, and there’s always pleasure in the mechanics of ripping off someone horrid who doesn’t deserve the money or the art collection. However, over-reliance on farts, nudity and toilet gags lands this a notch or so below The Truth About Charlie or The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job remakes.
A few smiles and some fraying charm, but big laughs are missing. This just about gets away with it rather than romps off with the loot.