Released: 9th May
In December of 1988, Frank Oz released his first film to not include a puppet. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on the 1964 film Bedtime Story, followed two conmen who make a bet to see who can get fifty thousand dollars out of a wealthy heiress. It starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine, the latter of which would go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance (which he would lose to Tom Hanks for Big). The film was a rousing success, netting $42 million at the box office, letting it land in the top 25 grossing films of that year. To put that in perspective, if you adjust for inflation that comes to $94 million… which is a box office total that I highly doubt The Hustle would achieve even if they weren’t releasing it when Avengers, Detective Pikachu and other good movies were owning the box office.
The Hustle, or as it was originally called “Dirty Rotten Skanks” in case you missed the obvious comparison, also follows two con-artists except this time, they’re women! Penny (Rebel Wilson) is a low rent hustler, more likely to catfish a guy and rob him than plan any kind of elaborate con. Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway) is a more high class con artist who would plan an elaborate caper that tricks men into handing her large amounts of money, even with her awful English accent that is apparently just done because they thought it might be funny to have that girl from Princess Diaries sound like discount Mary Poppins. The two of them butt heads almost immediately and, because it’s what they did in the original, the two of them have a bet to see who can con $500K out of a young tech millionaire, Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) and that requires an elaborate con involving fake blindness, a fake German accent, and a fake attempt at originality.
Now, I have absolutely no problem with the idea of a gender-flipped remake. I thought Oceans 8 was a delightful movie that I would happily enjoy again and I’m one of exactly seven men on the internet who will openly admit to thinking the recent female Ghostbusters film was actually fine and not a reason to unleash unholy hell upon the interwebs. I’m absolutely fine with taking an old film and flipping the genders and using that… but they need to do something with the idea. They can’t pull an Overboard and do the mild cosmetic change of making the male characters into women and the female characters into men… I mean, they can but it’s lazy and it sucks. The Hustle decided to go more towards Overboard, albeit with better actors so… you know… progress?
The plot is, beat for beat, identical to the original. Exchange “Steve Martin in a wheelchair” for “Rebel Wilson with her eyes open really wide to pretend she’s blind”. That’s the biggest change that they add to this movie, possibly because pretending to be a disabled veteran wouldn’t play anymore but pretending to be blind? Yeah, that’s fine. Other than that every single plot point, down to the final scene, is copied and given a half-assed coat of paint that, occasionally, just makes things worse. For example, I’m all for gay representation in movies so when a gay character turns up but he’s a predatory gay who is there for exactly that purpose. That’s a bad addition that is meant to lead to an “Oh, you thought this character was a man?” joke that’s, somehow, even less funny. Little things like that are irritating but what’s worse is that’s the only original joke I can remember since it leads into Anne Hathaway exchanging her discount Mary Poppins accent for a discount Frau Blücher impression and then a variation on the “Michael Caine tortures Steve Martin” scene from the original.
The fact that there is so little originality to be found in the plot means that the film relies on the details of the performances more than anything and to be fair, the lead performances are actually great. Yes, Anne Hathaway decided to put on an English accent and she claims it’s because she decided her character is doing it as part of a con. Personally, I think it’s because she’s playing the Michael Caine role and since Michael Caine has an accent, she did her own version of that. That being said, it is kind of impressive watching her put on this exaggerated character and leap from English to American to German accents, albeit comedic versions of each one. She knows how to deliver a line and if she had any lines worth delivering (the funniest line is one that she admits was her own adlib… that’ll tell you everything right there) it’d be something. Meanwhile, Rebel Wilson is chewing the scenery in that loveable way that only Rebel Wilson can. She does manage to pull out a few laughs with moments like a camouflage dress or her endless physical comedy chops. Honestly, I believed that she was a low rent con artist a lot more than I believed Steve Martin. Both of them have fantastic chemistry; I want them to work together again. Possibly in a film that has jokes written for it… that might be fun.
Everything about this film is literally just a lift from the original; they could’ve done so much more with the concept. Two women con-artists who do it because men don’t believe a woman can be as smart as them? Have them take down a stupid sexist asshole together; instead, they both just try to get money from a guy who is, at best, awkward and nice. Not even an internet nice guy who says he’s nice but is secretly a douche bag, just an actual nice person. I mean, sure the gender swap might make the part of the movie where the bet changes to “First to have sex with him wins” a little more palatable than it was in the original but there’s no reason for it. There’s nothing done with the gender swap, the movie doesn’t change at all. The behind-the-scenes stuff is more interesting than this film is; the story about Rebel Wilson using her law degree to get the MPAA to give them a PG-13 rating is more interesting than the actual film.
The Hustle is nothing more than a gender-swapped Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with nothing added and nothing changed. It’s not more vulgar, there’s no message, there’s no surprise twist in the plot. It’s the same film but the pronouns got swapped. Maybe if you didn’t watch the original you will get a kick out of this one, prior knowledge of the original film meant I know the comedic set pieces that were coming and therefore the surprise required to make comedy work was no longer there. It’s certainly not as bad as Overboard, but it’s also not good enough to warrant being made. The lead actors are great and I hope we get something else with them… just, maybe give them their own original script that they can really shine in.
Also, if you’re going to call your film The Hustle, I had better hear the Van McCoy song at some point otherwise you just fail.