Colin Firth is a hapless art curator who tries to flog a forgery in this reworking of the 1966 caper starring Michael Caine. In what feels like the same spirit of sheer audacity, director Michael Hoffman and writers Joel and Ethan Coen have taken a so-so film and given it a quick spit and polish, perhaps also hoping to benefit from the afterglow of Firth's recent Oscar win.
Fortunately, their leading man does have bags of charm and a knack for comedy that keeps you watching between eye-rolling moments of farce. He plays Harry Dean, a typically bumbling Englishman who decides he's had enough of being pilloried by the almighty publishing magnate Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman on autopilot) whose art collection he curates.
Harry devises an elaborate con to get even, but he needs Cameron Diaz on board, drawling for all she's worth as Texan rodeo rider PJ Puznowski, the descendant of a US Marine who is said to have liberated a genuine Monet from Nazi Germany. In fact, Harry supplies her with a fake painted by his trusty ally Major Wingate (Tom Courtenay) and dangles the bait with a $12m price-tag.
Still, there isn't much in the way of romantic intrigue between the leads, so this does little to up the stakes. Instead, it's the constant dressing down of Harry - by his boss and by circumstance - that keeps him pushing for revenge.
The script is a tad too literal on this point, however. Firth is stripped down to his boxers in a drawn-out Carry On-style sequence at The Savoy Hotel, but it's not the knobbly knees as much as the regal air of stoicism that gets the laughs. Rickman doesn't get off so lightly, having to go completely bare-arsed more than once in the name of comedy and in the most gratuitous style.
A fart gag only adds to a thickening air of desperation, with other stale jokes revolving around a group of muttering Japanese businessmen and Stanley Tucci doing a high-camp turn as a rival art dealer. Aspects of the original plot have been tweaked, but where it really matters, the Coens and Hoffman demonstrate a surprising lack of inspiration. It all feels so dated.
Diaz tries hard to shake things up with her dizzy blonde cowgirl shtick, but in a film that trades on broad stereotypes and even broader humour, she just becomes part of the noise. Firth gets away with it because Harry's major flaw is that he isn't as bold and brash as the people he's dealing with. He plays his part well, but so many cheap laughs can never add up to a comic masterpiece.