‘Hustlers’: Flashy, Trashy, and Mildly Subversive
“Doesn’t money make you horny?” A shake-it-’til-you-make-it parable about good girls gone bad, Hustlers is flashy, trashy, surprisingly timid and just slightly subversive. It’s also kind of unconvincing, which is a surprise since the faux-raunchy movie was based on an actual 2015 New York Magazine article. The premise is simple: in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, a gaggle of strippers shake down Wall Street horndogs by drugging them and illegally running up their credit cards. Charge it, bitches! Crazy sexy cool, right?
HUSTLERS ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Written by: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B
Running time: 110 min
Sure, but make it believable. After yet another montage of the same hot chicks luring yet another roofied suit from a swanky bar into a skanky club, and then swiping his plastic for thousands, the premise seems ludicrous. That’s it? No more elaborate schemes? Just rampant overcharges that a bunch of rich assholes are too embarrassed to contest?
Hustlers wants to be a femme Goodfellas, with wall-to-wall music, roaming camerawork, and ample voiceover from Constance Wu’s character Dorothy as the film’s wide-eyed Henry Hill descending into a life of crime. But this stripper saga just isn’t gonzo enough to be as baroquely felonious. These are basic sex bombs pulling off a basic scam. Things go great until things spin out of control. Cue another pop song and the inevitable fed raids.
Still, Hustlers has a you-go-girl intensity that’s downright delicious. Dorothy shakes her booty to get that cash for her simple outerborough life with grandma. But she’s gobsmacked when she sees honey pot MILF Ramona Vega (bootylicious Jennifer Lopez) tear up the stage and make the horny patrons shower her with money. So she goes to the seasoned vet for some pointers. “Step into my fur,” Ramona coos, and then tutors her in Pole Dancing 101: limber poses like the Martini, the Fireman, the Stag, the Table Top. “That hurt my vagina,” says Dorothy.
Cardi B even pops up to oversee a crash course in lap dancing. And once Dorothy masters the “drain the clock, not the cock” philosophy of stripping, then she follows the green brick road to a chinchilla lifestyle. Suddenly she’s not only splurging at high-end departments but also moving into a practical apartment. And finally feeling fiscal agency.
Hustlers is at its best in the first half, when filmmaker Lorene Scafaria is world-building with sympathetic, relatable, funny sisterhood characters using their God-given beauty to titillate men into helping them with their 401(K)’s. That twisted empowerment isn’t new but it suddenly feels a little more fresh, especially in a film written and directed by a woman who at no moment ever lets these ladies lose their dignity.
That said, there is this nagging sense of self-censorship in a film where the club scene never really feels scuzzy enough, the men never really come off as dangerously sleazy, and the looming sense of unease never really erupts into outright peril. The film’s ultimate hustle might be in just how demure it really is.