A film review by Craig J. Koban August 31, 2019

THE HUSTLE j
 

2019, R, 94 mins.

 

Rebel Wilson as Lonnie  /  Anne Hathaway as Josephine  /  Tim Blake Nelson as Portnoy  /  Alex Sharp  /  Ingrid Oliver as Inspector Desjardins  /  Emma Davies as Cathy

Directed by Chris Addison  /  Written by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer

 

 

 

Announced in 2016, shot in 2017, and then very unceremoniously dumped in cinemas this year, THE HUSTLE is a remake of a remake that's inexcusable in its wretchedness.  

The grifter comedy - with the latter word being used loosely - is a remake of the splendid 1988 Steve Martin and Michael Caine classic DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, which, in turn, was adapted from the Marlon Brando and David Niven headlined 1964 film BEDTIME STORY.  The most obvious difference with this latest iteration of the story is the gender reversal of the main characters, but beyond that this Chris Addison directed update offers very little - if any - substantial reason to invest in it.  This new version not only drops the ball at being a potentially compelling commentary on male/female power dynamics in the MeToo era, but it simply fails at being a decent remake and a funny comedy, leaving audiences feeling completely swindled while leaving the cinema post screening. 

I must confess that DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS remains one of my favorite comedies of the 80s, which leaves me in a bit of a protectionist stance about any efforts to remake its narrative arc yet again.  THE HUSTLE has - last I checked - four credited screenwriters, yet their collective services were unable to muster a remake here that at least pays homage to the Frank Oz '88 endeavor while taking it in fresh new directions (that, at the very least, should be the benchmark for all movie remakes to succeed).  Aside from switching the two main con artists from men to women, THE HUSTLE is a lazily plagiaristic appropriation of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, right down to basic plot beats and revelations, shocking twists, and even gags and pratfalls.  If you have even a fleeting familiarity with Oz's film then virtually nothing in THE HUSTLE will come as any level of surprise for you.  It's good for a remake to inject a few new elements here and there, but when one is just going to sluggishly rely on the storytelling particulars and scenes from the film that influenced it...then what's really the point? 

 

 

That, and stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson mightily struggle with having the same deliciously screwball comic energy and chemistry that Caine and Martin had well before them.  Hathaway - sporting a ridiculously phony British accent to the point of inspiring audible groans in viewers - plays Josephine Chesterfield, who makes her fortune planning and orchestrating elaborate scams on the French Riviera, making her all-male prey fall victim to her false charms by giving her all of their money.  Wilson plays Penny Rust, a two-bit, B-grade con artist that usually makes scores off of much more lowly victims.  When Penny fatefully crosses paths with Josephine and realizes what a gold mine operation she has in France she demands to be taken in as her protégé to learn the ropes of successfully securing more big game cliental.  Josephine reluctantly agrees, even though she has massive trust issues with her new student. 

Predictably, the pair begin to have their respective issues with one another (also, based on the fact that they're con-women, how could either of them truly trust the other) and begin to realize that Beaumon-sur-Mer isn't big enough for the both of them.  This leads to them hatching out a devious contest: Whomever can swindle half a million dollars out of a visiting tech billionaire (Alex Sharp) first gets to stay in France, whereas the loser has to leave immediately and never come back.  Josephine confidently feels that she has the upper hand, mostly because she knows her own home turf well and has a loyal sidekick in a local cop (Ingrid Oliver) that's paid off to assist her whenever and wherever needed.  Still, Josephine realizes that she has her work cut out for her when the unpredictable Penny begins to take ultra desperate measures (like impersonating a blind person) to curb sympathy from the rich and naive American. 

It's tough coming down hard on female centric films like THE HUSTLE without coming off as a misogynist, and also considering that there have been a slew of gender swapped remakes and/or redos as of late that have ranged from pathetically mediocre to decent (see GHOSTBUSTERS, WHAT MEN WANT, and OCEAN'S 8, the latter being the only clever and watchable one of the trio).  THE HUSTLE is not a failure because it switched out Caine/Martin for Hathaway/Wilson.  Hardly at all.  The film's biggest creative sin is that the multitude of writers here do virtually nothing with the would-be juicy premise of having women conning inordinately gullible and rich men out of their fortunes.  Considering the times we live in, the idea of suppressed and exploited women getting some serious comeuppance on men could have been so endlessly compelling and milked for terrific satiric effect.  Unfortunately, THE HUSTLE is so empty minded and low calorie in terms of being shrewd with its comedic predicaments.  Instead of thoughtful and hilarious commentary, this remake is just a lame pratfall and joke generating machine that gets more cringe worthy as it progresses. 

I guess if a film like this can't be intelligent in its scripting it should, at the very least, provide some giddy merriment, but THE HUSTLE is mournfully D.O.A. in the laughs department.  No serious offence to Hathaway or Wilson, but they simply don't have the subtle comedic timing of Caine and Martin, and when it boils right down to it both female leads here are painted in the broadest of brush strokes.  Hathaway's Josephine is basically a tight dress wearing gold digger that uses sexuality as a weapon and Wilson's Penny is the wisecracking and uncoordinated slob.  Wilson in particular comes off like fingernails on a chalkboard and is essentially just riffing on all of her previous performance quirks in past films, but the Oscar winning Hathaway is almost more embarrassingly awful, sporting not one, but two awful accents: British (as mentioned) and later an even worse German one when she tries to impersonate the world's leading authority on blindness to help "cure" Penny and secure the $500,000 from the tech guru.  You watch them here and just have to scratch your head how anyone would even be conned by them at all.   

By the time THE HUSTLE reaches its would-be scandalous and shocking climax (which is a carbon copy from the rug pulling twist from DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS) I fully realized how creatively desperate and bankrupted this remake really was.  With jokes that fall resoundingly flat, performances that rarely tickle the funny bone, and cheaply rendered scripting that comes off like a Xerox copy of what came before and what we're left with a total waste of 90 minutes in a darkened cinema with strangers that I'll never, ever get back.  The unlimited awfulness of THE HUSTLE is not all that surprising considering the fact that it was shelved for years before release and that its borderline anemic marketing campaign did everything humanly possible to distance any referencing that it was a remake of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.   

Unsuspecting filmgoers paying to see forgettable drivel like this is a con job in itself. 

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