Directed by Michael Hoffman.Starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Tom Courtenay 12A cert, general release, 90 min

FEW PROJECTS emerge from development hell without some singeing of the earlobes or blistering of the toes. This remake of a so-so swinging London comedy from 1966 has been kicking around so long it once had DW Griffith attached as director (well, not really). Somewhere along the line, two brothers named Joel and Ethan Coen penned a script that eventually provided the platform for this witless farrago of cheap farce and low-level racism.

Cameron Diaz plays a Texan who wields a lasso and says “yee-ha”. Colin Firth essays the sort of comedy Englishman who can’t pass a teashop without emitting a “jolly good”. It goes on. Given the quality of the film, we must assume that these Coens are no relation to the siblings who make films that rarely encourage you to poke out your eyes with rusty scissors.

The plot has something to do with a shy, introverted Englishman, an art expert for a conglomerate, who seeks to swindle his mad boss (Alan Rickman) out of a fortune by flogging him a forged Monet. Mr Firth is the stuttering fool. Ms Diaz is the American whose family circumstances grant the fake painting some provenance. Stanley Tucci is the funny German who telegraphs his Teutonic roots by (honest, we’re not making this up) regularly clicking his heels.

The least mentioned about Firth’s talents for comedy, the soonest mended. He’s very good at psychologically damaged monarchs. He is great at inhibited Georgian loveboats. But his performance in Gambit – too much of which requires him to skulk trouserless in broom cupboards — triggers a desire to stomp round to Hugh Grant’s house and, while brandishing a firearm, demand that he emerge from semi-retirement at the soonest opportunity.

Some critics, embracing the impending season of goodwill, have suggested that the entire project is a sly pastiche that actively embraces anachronism. They may well be right. If so, the picture’s stink has a slightly more complex finish. But it still stinks.