Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson gleam diamond bright in this Dirty Rotten remake from In the Loop star Chris Addison. Sure, it’s not as sharp as the discerning critic might hope – it’s certainly not nearly as novel – but charisma wins out. A few belly laughs would have gone a long way towards sealing a longer-lasting deal and yet The Hustle is winning enough to steal its fair share of chuckles. Those after wit and comment should steer clear or reap their just deserts – only those who should know better will leave feeling conned.
Gender-switching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – which was itself a remake of Ralph Levy’s Marlon Brando starring Bedtime Story – provides The Hustle with its well meaning but undercooked argument. In an early scene, Hathaway’s British femme fatale Josephine Chesterfield asks ‘why are women better suited to the con than men?’ before declaring that it is mankind’s inability to comprehend the notion that a woman might outsmart them. It’s a point Ocean’s 8 – which also starred Hathaway – made last year and Steve McQueen’s Widows aced too. The Hustle, naturally, leans to the former, albeit with less conviction. How a film so devoted to catfighting and sexual exploitation can argue female empowerment remains to be seen.
Whilst Hathaway drawls, withers and hilariously recalls her pre-Oscar winning romcom past, Rebel Wilson continues to plough her post-Pitch Perfect furrow as street swindler Penny Rust. If Josephine is Eliza Doolittle as trained, Penny is her cockney forebear. Except, she Australian. In spite of her talents, Wilson’s image is predicated on the fact. Penny is rough-cut, small time and essentially hapless. Having implausibly accumulated a $500k scam fortune, Penny jet sets for new horizons in the French costal haven of Beaumont-sur-Mer. In between her and Riviera riches stands Josephine and when a brief team up disintegrates, con-war ensues. The target? Alex Sharp’s junior, coding-whizz Thomas Westerburg, whose hit app is worth billions.
As The Hustle rarely strays from source – original writers Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning receive post-mortem writing credits for the film – the rest you know. Too well. Wilson serves as producer here, alongside Rush Hour’s Roger Birnbaum, and presumably contributed greatly to a script well in her comfort zone. Much akin to her first spin as producer – Isn’t It Romantic – Wilson spins pseudo feminine liberation from ownership of her appearance, via a character adept at manipulating shallow men. Initial promise that Hathaway’s ‘no sex please, I’m British’ game will prove enlightening, however, doesn’t come to much. Soon enough, a training sequence exploits that grand old tradition of fat mockery. In Addison’s hands, this is too warm and winsome to ever feel cruel but the whiff of missed potential is strong. The film’s working title – Nasty Women – promised a political riff on Donald Trump sexism but that’s nowhere to be seen. A mispronunciation of Phuket is funny but baseless, whilst the wittiest gags are entirely peripheral – Thomas is staying, for instance, in Suite Caroline.
In essence, only the bouncing bon vive of a well paired cast get things bubbling. Hathaway – slippery accent aside – excels in elegant frustration, whilst Wilson could eek giggles from a phone book. This ain’t a classic in either’s film catalogue but is happy in the mid-range. Lovely to look at, fun to spend time with, easy to forget.