The Hustle, 2019.
Directed by Chris Addison.
Starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Tim Blake Nelson, Alex Sharp, Dean Norris, Emma Davies and Ingrid Oliver.
A glamorous female con artist takes on a more small-time crook as her protégé, targeting men who underestimate women.
There’s something delightful about a well-executed con movie, with all of the pieces coming together like an elegant, Swiss watch. But there’s nothing delightful about The Hustle, which has all of the pieces roughly assembled like a knock-off Disney watch from a dodgy market, featuring a character called Ricky Mouse.
The film is a female-led remake of the classic 1980s caper Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, itself a remake of Bedtime Story from the 60s. Anne Hathaway is the experienced, high-class con artist Josephine, while Penny (Rebel Wilson) is the upstart grifter who muscles in on her fertile, wealthy patch in the south of France. Josephine agrees to show Penny some of her tricks in an attempt to get her out the door but, when Penny tries to stick around, they decide on a wager. The first woman to scam 20-something tech billionaire Thomas (Alex Sharp) out of $500,000 gets to stay, while the other must get on a plane and scram.
It’s difficult to describe the experience of watching The Hustle, which is a bit like a magician at a kids’ party who keeps trying to make an intricate balloon animal but can only produce a snake. The four credited screenwriters possibly manage the equivalent of a laugh each and Wilson’s trademark physical comedy ekes out a handful of chuckles. Largely, though, the script is a string of non-sequiturs, slapstick set pieces that don’t land and gotcha twists that never provoke so much as a glimmer of excitement. the narrative is absolutely all over the place, with some story threads – the least amusing comedy blindness act since the endless interlude in Anchorman 2, for example – stretching on into the infinite void, while others are wrapped up with a flick of the wrist and a swift cut to something completely different.
Hathaway and Wilson, to be fair, are trying their level best to inject a bit of energy and excitement into the film, which is infused with all of the cinematic charisma of an Ikea bookcase by Chris Addison – a very fine comedian who seems to struggle in his first outing as a movie director. The former appears in a succession of joyously opulent gowns and delivers an exquisite, posh British accent, while Wilson pratfalls and yells her way through the film as usual. Some of her comedy edge is clearly missing, though, with her more crude material evidently smoothed off in the hunt for a PG-13/12A rating.
It doesn’t help that one of the key selling points of the film – its feminist conceit of smart women taking on toxic men – seems to have been entirely abandoned. This is a film with a tagline promising vengeance on “dirty rotten men” and which closes with Meghan Trainor’s song ‘Badass Woman’, recorded speficially for the movie. Indeed, when the movie was first announced, it was under the title “Nasty Women” in a direct reference to Donald Trump’s infamous comment about Hilary Clinton. None of that feminist fizz has remained in the final movie, which actually undercuts its female empowerment message with some of the directions its chaotic narrative takes.
This is simply a miserable cinematic experience that serves as a wasteland in which anything approaching comedy presumably faded to dust when Thanos snapped his fingers in Avengers: Infinity War. With the exception of a couple of chuckles, this is a barren comedy that relies on tired gags about Wilson’s appearance – three films of her as a character called Fat Amy pretty much drained that particular well – and a central battle of the sexes conceit that is tossed aside as soon as the movie reckons it has a good idea for a plot swerve.
Con movies are about elegance and comedies are about laughter. The Hustle has all of the elegance of a giraffe on roller skates and all of the laughter of an evening talking intergalactic taxation with George Lucas. This is a dirty rotten mess.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.