‘The Hustle’ Lacks Bustle

Missed Opportunities and a Miscast Anne Hathaway

Disappointing. As an update of 1988’s luxe lark Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which itself was a remake of 1964’s forgettable goof Bedtime Story, this new iteration The Hustle should work. Slam dunk. Easy money. But no.

THE HUSTLE ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Chris Addison
Written by: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, Jac Schaeffer
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp
Running time: 94 min

Those earlier films centered around two lothario con artists on the French Riviera who compete for the affections, and more importantly the money, of lonely women. What’s better than watching clever ways to swindle dumb rich people? Even when some of their scams are kind of transparent, the crooks are always so charming.

The Hustle basically follows the same plot points as its predecessors, but switches genders so the ladykillers become the femmes fatales. It’s an obvious 21st-century punch-up, maybe even straight-up #MeToo pandering, that nonetheless feels like a ripe opportunity. Yet it still falls flat, despite some pretty funny gags. Honestly, it sucks to ding a movie with zingers like “I don’t speak foreign” and “I’m salad intolerant.”

How could such a road-tested premise fail? Maybe because the story wasn’t so structurally sound to begin with.

This kind of movie lives and dies by the casting, and The Hustle reveals just how much the original premise used the reputations of its stars as a crutch. The original had Marlon Brando, fully exploiting his dumb-hunk Stanley Kowalski swagger, facing off against atavistically debonair Brit David Niven. The Eighties version had Steve Martin, sporting his idiot savant veneer from The Jerk, and Michael Caine in full bloom as the dashing rogue he had cultivated over decades of film roles.

Most importantly, in both cases, there was a palpable age difference of about 15 years, which makes the inevitable contest between the seasoned vet and the cocky upstart so clearly believable and frankly kind of timeless.

This time around, the two leads are from the same generation. And their screen stereotypes aren’t nearly as effective. Rebel Wilson (Penny) is basically playing the same sloppy-but-confident Fat Amy schtick from Pitch Perfect. It’s one-note, and she’s great at it. But it’s a schtick that works because she’s so brutally honest, not because she’s good at tricking people.

In ‘The Hustle,’ a mismatched pair of female con artists meet cute.

Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway is…what, exactly? The fresh-faced ingenue from Princess Diaries? The spunky go-getter from Devil Wears Prada? The doomed gamine from Les Misérables? She’s got one duplicitous caper role under her belt, with Ocean’s 8, and that’s it. She’s punching above her weight in The Hustle, and it shows.

Frankly, Hathaway is at her best as a fish-out-of-water who’s a quick study. She could have been much more effective in Wilson’s part, especially with a more formidable opponent. Maybe if she was dueling someone with an Angelina Jolie seductress vibe, or an Angelina Jolie viper instinct, or an Angelina Jolie world-weary wisdom, or an Angelina Jolie twinkle of dark mischief. Hey, waitaminute. I think I have an idea for another remake.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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