The Hustle | Film Review262
The Pitch: A remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (itself a remake of the Niven and Brando flick Bedtime Story), The Hustle pairs Oscar winner Anne Hathaway with Aussie comic Rebel Wilson as a pair of high-class grifters that specialize in lifting dough from dudes’ pockets. Playboy slayers, you might call them.
Hathaway is Josephine, an English ace with years of experience in con artistry. She can leapfrog from airhead to eye-doctor personae with a twist of the tongue, applying her performative trade to the tune of tens of millions in liquidity. Her skill is keeping the rich and fatuous wrapped around her finger. She’s very good, as evidenced by her rare iguana and Jimmy Choos. Enter Lonnie (Wilson), an amateur scam artist who’s looking to hone in on the same old men that Josephine’s worked terribly hard to keep in check. Her tricks are simple (pictures of large-breasted women, repeatedly), but rather effective.
From here, you know the rest. They spat, they scheme, they play big games and small with the hearts (and wallets) of rich boys. Their big fish? A Zuckerberg-esque boy billionaire. Lonnie and Josephine aim to see who can woo $500,000 from the tech genius first, by any means necessary. Do a little dance, make a little cash, get conned tonight.
They’re the Man: Following on Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8, The Hustle is the latest attempt to flip the gendered script on a boy’s club property. Overall, the results are a mixed bag.
Let’s cover the script. If you have a passing familiarity with the Comedy Central mainstay Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, then you’ll get the grift. Hathaway and Wilson (paralleling Michael Caine and Steve Martin, respectively) are class and crass, forced to learn from one another in order to pull off The Big Con. There aren’t any huge surprises or plot shake-ups to be found; The Hustle actually comes from a mildly adjusted retooling of the ’88 film’s script, billing the same writers alongside new ones.
Does the new take have anything to say about gender roles? Josephine asserts that men are easier to con, because they could never believe a woman is smarter than them. Truer words have never been spoken, and we welcome more comedies at the expense of idiotic men. Yet something’s amiss in the telling of this particular joke. Look, there’s something to be celebrated in a screwball comedy that treats its marks as buffoons. But The Hustle’s style is less about adding some sting to that point, and more about using it as an easy angle to appeal to audiences. Being right is fine, but being sharp, pointed, and memorable is better. You can’t hate The Hustle, but you can wish it reached farther.
The Hustle’s game of boneheads isn’t really all that. It’s a quickie comedy: Nicely dressed, agreeably easygoing, and quickly in and out.
Art History of the Con: So The Hustle’s not terribly sharp. But we’re not making excuses when we ask: Is The Hustle funny, at least? Broadly, yes.
Take the Ruprecht gambit from the ’88 version, where Martin plays Caine’s mentally disturbed brother. It’s transformed here into Wilson playing Hortense, Hathaway’s equally disturbed and fairy tale-obsessed shut-in sister. Hathaway, as a thickly German-accented doctor, feels at home in a Wilder comedy in the ‘50s and she yuks it up. There are tons of featherbrained laughs to be had, and however slight or even forgettable, cheap laughs are still laughs by another name.
The Hustle embraces this throwback attitude in a wider sense as well. Animated title credits. A score with violins and Reinhardt guitar. Costumes and jewelry that demand attention, and zingers by the barrelful. Wilson mocks Hathaway for checking her ‘NASCAR Indexes,” which is as Borscht belt a joke as a modern movie could try. And Hathaway, with her changing accents, finds a certain joy in the unexpected element of it. This sucker’s an oldie but a modest goodie. It’s somewhat vintage, perfectly in line with MGM hits and hoots like Heartbreakers, A Fish Called Wanda, and even Some Like It Hot. Scams, flim-flams, and hammy humor.
The Verdict: The Hustle has two things going for it. One, the leads are a delight. Wilson’s brand of lazy confidence may not be for everyone, but she works it ably here. And Hathaway, one of the hardest-working actresses of this generation, offers a grand supper of accents, attitudes, and shiny outfits. They are capital-S Stars in a thin film. And two, The Hustle’s gag count is strong enough to lightly recommend it. Hoary one-liners. Absurdist comedy. Proper fun stuff. The amount of silly is so high that even the most stone-faced customer will have a smirk chiseled out by Wilson and Hathaway.
So consider the risks. While the movie’s a letdown in the remake and modernization departments, it’s at least a modest success in terms of ebullient talent and frothy farce. Do your own math here: Is this your ideal filmic getaway? A throwaway summer comedy, running in counter to noisy 18-24 entertainments? The chances of feeling cheated by The Hustle are 50/50, overall.
Where’s It Playing? It’s in wide release, at least, as wide as MGM can likely afford in the face of 4700 other pre-reserved Endgame screens across the country.