The Hustle could not be more firmly within the wheelhouse of things I enjoy. I love a good farce, I love a good con artist comedy, even a mediocre one like 2001’s Heartbreakers remains one of my favorite comedies and one I will always watch when it’s on cable. And I love the two actresses at the center of it, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. The idea of a gender-bent Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake also sounded exciting to me, as this could allow for some potentially intriguing avenues for the narrative to take. Unfortunately, nothing is interesting about The Hustle.
Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) is a high-stakes grifter who has the big house on the French Riviera and is confident in her set of accomplishments. She comes across Penny (Wilson), a more small-time con artist, who she decides to take under her wing and train in the ways of the con that she knows. Wackiness ensues from there.
Rebel Wilson continues to do these awful comedies that capitalize on fat jokes and her own character’s stupidity. It reminds you of the terrible Melissa McCarthy comedies like Identity Thief – before McCarthy became the producer and had the guts to tell the filmmakers to not lean on tired fat jokes. Rebel Wilson’s character is one fat joke after another, and there is not much more to her, and that makes her look bad as an actress, proving naysayers that think she’s a one-note comedienne right, and it makes the movie itself look even worse. Considering Wilson holds a law degree, is an executive producer on this film, and apparently fought the MPAA for this film’s PG-13 rating, she should have a better idea of how to avoid a fate like this. She’s an actress I have always been rooting for, but this act isn’t going to be funny forever, and now it’s time for her to prove her haters wrong.
Anne Hathaway, however, is having the time of her life. As the refined, British Josephine, Hathaway is doing the same kind of comedic work we saw her do in Ocean’s 8, where she plays around with audience expectations of her. She’s doing a lot of excellent accent work, and her character gets to wear a lot of different hats, and she’s game and fun to watch, even if the script doesn’t give her much to do comically, she’s adding to what’s on the page. And her costumes are so gorgeous, you don’t even begrudge her for wasting her time in this lame movie. Her career also needs something of a boost, because if you look at what she has done lately, there is too much of this kind of thing on her resume.
Directed by Chris Addison, we have some beautiful locations in certain scenes and others where the green-screen is incredibly sloppy. Written by Jac Schaeffer, with screenwriting credits also given to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels screenwriters Dale Launer, and the deceased Paul Henning and Stanley Shapiro follow that movie pretty much beat for beat. Gags that may have worked more successfully in a 1988 comedy aren’t fresh anymore. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is itself a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story, which Henning and Shapiro originally wrote. I have no idea how posthumous writing credits work, especially when both Henning and Shapiro have been dead since 2005 and 1990, respectively, so it seems like an odd choice to credit them as screenwriters when the woman who actually wrote the screenplay is last on the list of writers. Maybe she just didn’t want to take credit for her own terrible work.
This movie could have been so much more than it is. I saw The Hustle on its opening night in a sold-out theater, and for a big, broad comedy that gives the audience laugh breaks, it was dead quiet for a significant chunk. Hathaway and Wilson could be great together in a different movie, but this one isn’t it. It’s a series of disconnected scenes that do not flow, and the script is too weak to make the journey worth it. The gender-swapped remake should really give the women better material to work with and give its performers more to say, but The Hustle has nothing interesting to say.