Film Review – The Hustle
The Hustle opens in a bar with a man wearing his button-up shirt that’s just a tad too open. He is waiting for his date, who he met through a dating app. The buxom blonde in the photos is too good to be true and alas Penny (Rebel Wilson) shows up instead. The promise of this other girl and her impending breast augmentation are enough to con the guy out of a few hundred dollars. Alas, another guy bursts into the bar with the cops who was also a victim of this same con job. Penny’s dash out of the back door, the scene from the trailer with her “trashy dress,” and randomly coming upon a discarded magazine about Beaumont-sur-Mer in France is enough to set the stage for Penny moving on to greener pastures.
The Hustle is an update/remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, swapping out Steve Martin and Michael Caine for Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway. The screenwriters for Scoundrels, Dale Launer, Paul Henning, and Stanley Shapiro are credited for The Hustle along with Jac Schaeffer, meaning that the story is generally the same, just swapping genders for the leading roles and the targets for the cons. Penny arrives in the French Riviera, which is Josephine’s (Anne Hathaway) turf. After quickly recognizing a fellow con artist while they were on the train together, Josephine tried in vain to steer her clear of “her town.” While awaiting the arrival of her next mark, Josephine is in disgust that Penny has already conned him. With her cohorts in crime, Inspector Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver) and Albert (Nicholas Woodeson), they manage to move Penny out of the area, only to have her return. They had underestimated her, and after blackmailing Josephine, Penny is taken on as an apprentice of sorts. Things don’t quite work out as Penny had hoped financially, so Josephine and Penny make a wager to extract $500,000 from a young tech entrepreneur, Thomas (Alex Sharp).
An opportunity was missed with The Hustle. Both Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson were typecast into their roles. If they had switched roles, it would have been more of an acting challenge for both actresses and less stereotypical to have the skinny, pretty girl play the struggling con artist who is ungraciously finding her way through her jobs. Wilson is a producer on the film, so I am sure that she had the role she wanted, and both actresses did a fabulous job with their characters. However, it would have come off as a statement as well as a gender switch up of the original film. Sometimes I think producers, directors, and screenwriters get stuck on not thinking enough outside the box and only take their ideas fifty percent of the way to ingenuity.
Although the film leans on Wilson and Hathaway to carry the load, it also has a supporting cast that is delightful to watch as well. Nicholas Woodeson is mostly silent as Albert, but he is a crucial part of Josephine’s plans. Silent, in this case, does not mean stupid, and he has it out for Penny just as much as Josephine. Dean Norris shows up briefly as the first con of both Josephine and Penny, and with his Texan accent, southern slang, and hailing from Fort Worth, he was well-received by the Dallas audience. What could have been the cherry on top would be cameos from Steve Martin and Michael Caine, but neither occurred.
The Hustle is a comedy, and while it is not an original idea, it works well, garnering laughs throughout from its audience. Some of the jokes are lame and fall a bit flat, but The Hustle is not a film that falls into the category of all the funny bits being in the trailer, which frankly I was afraid of happening. Considering the film was screened for critics in my town just two days before its release, it is sometimes a bad sign of what is to come. Thankfully the film is worth seeing in theatres, especially if you are not familiar with or have forgotten about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The twist at the end is not something you see coming (hence the forgetting of what happens in Scoundrels). While I will not say it is not the best comedy of the year, the comedic prowess of Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway is top notch, and it is a film that both men and women will enjoy.