Synopsis – Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star as female scam artists, one low rent and the other high class, who team up to take down the men who have wronged them.
My Take – A new trend is in Hollywood nowadays – gender flipped remakes. And irrespective of their box office returns, this seems like a trend which is here to stay, well at least for a while.
The film in question here is a feminist spin on the 1988 hit comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as con artists who prey upon rich women’s emotional vulnerabilities, only to discover that they themselves have many of those same vulnerabilities. The Frank Oz film was itself a remake of a 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven led comedy.
Supposedly a passion project of sorts for star Rebel Wilson, who reportedly pitched the idea to studios under the working title Dirty Rotten Skanks, with a potential in seeing the story retold through a new lens. Genuinely not a bad idea.
But while the film is more overt when it comes to discussing gender, including a monologue about why women are better suited to “the con” than men, it doesn’t really have all that much to say. Not about gender, not about con artistry, and definitely not about how to craft a satisfying studio comedy.
Sure, some sequences are fun to watch, and the film is briskly paced, but when you realize that 93 minutes have passed, without providing a single genuine laugh, you definitely feel the pain in knowing how director Chris Addison and his four screenwriters tried to profit underhand with the ongoing #MeToo era, by giving us a dreadful farce that doesn’t do anything exciting with a well-established genre built on double and triple crosses.
While the film could swindle its unsuspecting viewers but its attempt to win big comes up a bust as we’ve ultimately seen all these tricks before, that too with better chuckles.
The story follows Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson), a crass, small-time Australian con-woman who hustles horny dudes on Tinder in New York City out of a few hundred bucks with a fake story about a gorgeous looking fake sister. However, after the police catches on, she flees for France, to set up shop in the luxurious Riviera town of Beaumont-sur-Mer, where she ruffles the feathers of high-class con artist Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway), who’s already got a glamorous arrangement in the area, which includes a crooked cop (Ingrid Oliver) and her manservant Albert (Nicholas Woodeson).
At first, Josephine agrees to mentor Penny, by using her support to carry out a group con called the Lord of the Rings. However, when Josephine refuses to share her winnings with Penny, they both set up a wager to con Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp), a young tech billionaire out of $500,000, and whoever wins will get to claim the city for herself.
What’s weird is that despite its title there is very little hustle here but rather a heavy reliance on craft as Penny and Josephine outwit each other. The screenplay, credited to several writers, reworks and modernizes some of the elements of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but the basic story beats are nearly identical. But despite its glitz and glam, the film is mostly bland and familiar, even if you’ve never seen its predecessor.
A good con film should feel clever in the moment and even more satisfying once all the puzzles pieces snap into place. But this one settles for being generally amiable instead, content to offer some chuckles here and there but little in the way of laugh-out-loud comedy or satisfying surprises.
In his feature directorial debut, director Chris Addison struggles to find the heart of the story he’s telling. The film’s brisk 93-minute run time is welcome; less so an extended montage of Josephine training Penny in the art of knife throwing when that has absolutely no bearing on any of the cons they pull.
The film seems very anxious about being funny, often sacrificing logic for easy jokes or whatever will allow Hathaway to vamp it up in increasingly ridiculous accents. The setups also relies on the same bad joke: Anne Hathaway, is so pretty and Rebel Wilson, is so not. It’s tired and gross, and makes up the bulk of the film. Penny is constantly falling on her face, screaming about her tits, or spilling wine on herself. Josephine is always wearing a silk robe and looking pressed.
While doing this, the film still attempts to gesture at empowerment. “Women have feelings… men see that quality in us an exploit it,” Penny says at one point. “No man will ever believe a woman is smarter than he is,” Josephine says during a con artist training montage.
For all its talk of criminal female empowerment, the film isn’t afraid to find flaws in its two female leads, which could be a welcome twist if the film explored it more.
My biggest gripe about the film is that the story it delivered wasn’t the story that was advertised as being about female con artists who team up to take down the men who have wronged them, and that really doesn’t happen at all. That would have been an interesting twist on the con artist film trope, especially considering this film is already a remake. But throughout very little is at stake that might hold our interest.
I personally found the key problem here to be Rebel Wilson herself. The antipodean star, who caught her break in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, produces as well as stars, has the job to carry most of the comedy, but instead drags it down. Her tiresome, one-joke “fat-but-fun” shtick is a reminder that she possesses neither the acting talent not comedic chops of contemporaries Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer, who she tries so desperately to emulate. To score her biggest laugh, Wilson poses as a sack of garbage, and it works, which tells you everything you need to know about this nauseating film.
However, Anne Hathaway isn’t bad, and unsurprisingly funnier than Wilson, as she nicely embodies the facade of sophistication and glamour, all the while looking drop dead gorgeous. In supporting roles, Alex Sharp is genuinely likable, while Nicholas Woodeson gives an especially funny performance despite having next to no dialogue. Dean Norris too appears in a funny cameo. On the whole, ‘The Hustle’ is a tepid comedy that is both humorless and exhausting.
Directed – Chris Addison
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 93 minutes