The Hustle (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson create a nice chemistry together.
Fans of the classic comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will be curious to see how this nearly beat-for-beat remake, featuring women, is handled in 2019.
Anne Hathaway can nail pretty much any accent.
A comedy, just without the humor.
You have to wonder if this was given to more able-handed filmmakers if The Hustle would have worked. Here, this thing crumbles into a pile of disappointment minutes after it begins.
I really hope Rebel Wilson can get opportunities moving forward that do not rely on her constantly making fun of her size and appearance. She deserves better (see February 2019’s Isn’t It Romantic?), but then…this happens?
Remaking Steve Martin and Michael Caine’s classic 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (itself a remake of Marlon Brando & David Niven’s 1964 comedy Bedtime Story), is not a terrible idea. Martin and Caine’s memorable film is now over 30 years old (!) and refreshing the concept of two competing con men, trying to outdo one another around a gullible third party, is a novel one.
Unfortunately, the talents of Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, clearly game for anything thrown their way, is simply not enough to save The Hustle from its infinite failures. The directorial debut for Welsh comedian Chris Addison proves to be a rambling wreck of half-hearted setup, lackluster delivery, and occasionally ugly and uncomfortable attempts at humor.
And it is 2019: Can we please give Wilson something more to do than make fun of herself?
Alarmingly, The Hustle seems to not only embrace queasy self-deprecation as a humorous crutch, but also believes an almost beat-for-beat remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels would work perfectly well swapping out men for women. It’s as if Addison believed sliding in Hathaway and Wilson to play the Martin and Caine (or Brando and Niven) roles would just work like clockwork.
Not so much.
Largely, Hathaway and Wilson spend their time trying to fit into characters not really of their design. Wilson plays low-level con artist, Penny, who impresses Josephine (Hathaway) with a con she pulls on a train. It should be noted that 10 minutes into the movie, Penny has already mocked her own appearance, or otherwise enforced dangerous, defeating stereotypes of plus-sized women in two separate cons. Apparently screenwriter Jac Schaeffer thinks if Penny eventually makes fun of herself, then all that kind of humor is okay.
Hathaway handles her British accent well, and a few others along the way, playing a con artist who has amassed a net worth of nearly $30 million, living on a massive palatial estate on the French Riviera. Caustic butler Albert (Nicholas Woodeson) and an accomplice, Brigitte, (Ingrid Oliver) work by her side. Naturally, once the two women meet, the love/hate relationship between them is immediate. And soon they have a common foil - a gullible 21-year-old social media entrepreneur (Alex Sharp), whose app has earned him millions and looks like a walking cash register to Penny and Josephine.
A few smart one-liners and physical gags land, though they may just as easily have been improvised by Wilson and Hathaway on set. In fact, one scene finds Wilson’s physical comedy actually break Hathaway on screen (you can see her laughing hard, unscripted, in a shot taken from behind her head and over her shoulder).
And yet as much fun as Wilson and Hathaway may have had shooting The Hustle, they can only generate enough humor to make this endeavor little more than amusing at best. Schaeffer, currently writing Marvel’s Black Widow and the upcoming Marvel/Disney+ series WandaVision, seems completely lost in how to balance cutting humor with female empowerment messaging. As a result, we just endure trashy behavior, intolerable actions, and scenes which wait for punchlines which never come.
That the movie hints to a sequel (to be fair, the others did as well), is a frustrating conclusion of what might have been. A major disappointment, The Hustle cons its audience into believing that this is a movie worth watching.
Hathaway and Wilson deserve better. We deserve better. And here’s hoping Wilson’s momentum from Isn’t It Romantic? and Hathaway’s tremendous talent can find better material moving forward.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Nicholas Woodeson.
Director: Chris Addison
Written by: Jac Schaeffer
Adapted from the film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, written by Dale Launer
Adapted from the source film “Bedtime Story”, written by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Release Date: May 10, 2019