When information is withheld from the people, that usually means the news isn’t good. No, I’m not referring to the current constitutional crisis that’s playing out in the US. I’m referring to the embargo that Universal Studios put on the movie critics who saw their latest release, THE HUSTLE. The film opens today here in Hong Kong and tomorrow in the US, and the embargo has just been lifted. Guess what? The news isn’t good.
Josephine Chesterfield’s (Anne Hathaway, OCEAN’S 8, COLOSSAL) successful business in the French Riviera resort town of Beaumont-sur-Mer of conning unsuspecting rich men of their money is put at risk when Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson, the PITCH PERFECT films) shows up to ply the same trade. Although classy Josephine would like nothing better than to see Penny off her home turf, the brash Australian proves to be a worthy adversary. As the adage goes, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, and the woman decide to work together on a few scams but their chalk-and-cheese relationship proves to be short-lived. That’s when the women agree to compete on one more, winner-take-all, scam with the prize being that the loser has to get out of town. Their objective is to see who can bilk Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp, TO THE BONE), a young, tech entrepreneur, out of a half a million dollars first.
If the premise sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a gender-reversed remake of the 1988 film, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, that starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin in similar roles. (That film was a remake of the 1964 film, BEDTIME STORY, that starred David Niven and Marlon Brando. BEDTIME STORY, unlike its two successors though, had a very Hollywood ending.) THE HUSTLE follows the storyline of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS almost too closely with just a few updates for the time we live in, including the amount of cash involved, a gag involving peer-to-peer transactions and a fair bit of raunchy talk. Most of the latter comes from Wilson, who has built her career on her “I’m fat, horny and vulgar” self-deprecating persona. It’s questionable how funny it was the second or the fifth time we saw her do that shtick in her previous movies but it’s definitely not funny here. For Hathaway’s part, although she’s supposed to play the straightman… er, woman, to Wilson’s over-the-top performance, she simply doesn’t have the comedic chops to pull it off. It’s certainly understandable that she’s trying to redefine herself now that she’s too old (at 36) to play the ingenue anymore but this performance won’t win anyone over to her side.
THE HUSTLE is directed by Chris Addison, a one-time stand-up comedian from the UK who has directed a number of episodes of TV’s VEEP, for one. This is his first studio film and it may have been too much for him to handle. Aside from the film lacking any sustained laughs (I only managed a couple of guffaws in its thankfully brief but not brief enough 94-minute running time), Addison clearly doesn’t know when to say, “It’s a wrap.” Just when the film should rightfully end, a useless epilogue comes on that adds nothing to the story. Then, to really show the audience what an inept film this is, there is a post-credit scene that was deleted from the final cut, as if to say, “If you loved what you just saw, you’re really going to love this.” The opposite happens though. There’s a good reason why that scene was cut — it’s awful!
Universal, at least here, is pitching this film to female moviegoers, probably thinking that if they loved these actresses in their other films, they’ll love them in this one too. I’m not sure how sound that strategy is given how raunchy the dialogue is and how flat the film as a whole is. Don’t even bother to wait for it to go to a streaming service or an inflight entertainment system, which will happen very quickly. Keep your money in your pocket instead because THE HUSTLE is a con in more ways than one.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, May 10th at 8:30 am HK time!
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