The Hustle review: Love the players, but not the game
Sometimes you see a trailer for a film and you get a strong feeling in your gut that screams: ‘This film is definitively ME!’ Other times, you don’t get that feeling, even though the trailer seems to be trying really hard to tell you: ‘This film is definitively YOU!’
Ads for The Hustle, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, have been following me around the internet relentlessly for weeks, and in this age of hyper-targeted, data-driven advertising, I came to the obvious conclusion that as a youngish, city-dwelling woman with tastes spanning the low- and high-brow, I epitomize the target audience for this movie. So of course I was obliged to roll up my sleeves and toddle off to discover if the ads were indeed correct.
The Hustle, opening May 10, is a remake of the 1988 movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, which is a remake of the 1964 film Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. Hathaway plays haughty, illustrious con artist Josephine and Wilson is déclassé small-time scammer Penny. When they meet en route to French resort town Beaumont-sur-Mer, a great frenemy-ship commences in which they learn they can at once collaborate and undo one another.
In fairness to the algorithms that sent The Hustle my way, all the ingredients were there: Hathaway, Wilson, a women-centric retelling, the glitzy Riviera setting, a continental train journey harking back to the golden age of rail travel, an opportunity to root for the bad guys. Yet somehow they didn’t quite come together.
I was hoping for an Ocean’s 8 companion piece, but in the end the film lacked the high glamour, the high stakes and the sprawling action I craved. The only things the two films have in common are a life-of-crime theme and Hathaway dazzling as she exploits her comedic talent for transforming herself, chameleon-like, into immensely charming characters, with a sly wink to the audience.
Unfortunately, even this isn’t consistent, as Josephine’s default setting in The Hustle is a poe-faced English toff who’s ultimately too cold to evoke much empathy, with an accent so unconvincing you keep waiting for it to be revealed as a joke. The habit of leaning entirely on a faux-posh English accent to substitute for a proper personality is especially tired to the British at this stage in cinematic history (and surely must also be wearing thin elsewhere too).
You imagine British director Chris Addison, with his history of working on highly nuanced British comedies like The Thick of It and In the Loop with Armando Iannucci would be aware of this and would be able to deftly dodge it. No such luck.
Wilson holds up her end of the deal with her own unique comedic style and timing, making Penny into The Hustle’s most redeeming feature. She gets the best lines, and makes the best of them too. She shines especially brightly in a funny and action-packed opening sequence in which she catfishes men using a dating app, but this section overpromises on behalf of the rest of the film.
Penny and Josephine work in competition with one another to exploit a proto-Zuckerberg tech tycoon, played so convincingly by Alex Sharp that this could serve as his audition for a sequel to The Social Network. Without giving too much away, if reversing the gender roles was supposed to be a feminist statement, it gets a little muddled here, and carries the movie downhill towards its conclusion.
If you’ve seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels you’ll already be familiar with the story’s twist. I was bracing myself for a twist on the twist that unfortunately never came. Like the slew of characters led down the garden path (sometimes quite literally) in the movie, I feel like The Hustle was all a big setup.