Cinematic Releases: The Hustle (2019) - Reviewed

In 1964, Ralph Levy’s Bedtime Story depicted Marlon Brando and David Niven as con artists trying to out-con each other through a bet to see who could seduce a wealthy heiress first. At this point, most audiences are more familiar with the 1988 re-envisioning of that film: Frank Oz’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels stars Michael Caine and Steve Martin as the conniving criminals attempting to win Glenne Headly’s heart. Over 30 years later in this age rife with remakes, we now have yet another iteration of this premise, The Hustle—this time flipping the genders and depicting Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson working their womanly ways on a wealthy man.  

Most of the plot mirrors the previous two films, with minor revisions to account for the gender swap and modern era. Refined con artist Josephine (Anne Hathaway) is living a life of luxury, successfully tricking men out of money by toying with their sympathies. Lonnie (Rebel Wilson), a low-class catfisher who manipulates men out of money after setting up Tinder dates under false pretenses, meets Josephine on a train en route to the French Riviera.  They soon learn they are two sides of the same coin, and Josephine agrees to take Lonnie under her wing to teach her how to become a higher class hustler.  Their strained comradery soon turns to rivalry when they agree to compete over the affections of a fumbling tech billionaire for the sum of $500,000 going to the winner.  

While the story feels familiar, the comedy is far more pandering and low-brow than its ancestors. Much of the physical humor seems cheap and forced, sometimes riding on jokes already made in the previous films with a slightly “edgier” slant. This is made worse by the largely uninspired screenplay that lacks true wit, mimics its forerunners a bit too often, and simply seems to hang on the fact that the leads are female to give it a purpose for existing. There is also a constant need in the script and direction to spell everything out rather than leaving anything to the imagination. Despite being much faster-paced than its prototypes, there are times when The Hustle feels exhausting in the choices it makes for these reasons.  

The lead actors are woefully miscast. Despite Anne Hathaway’s undeniable talent, her British and German accent-laden performance is completely two-dimensional, disinteresting, and unconvincing as a mentor figure. Rebel Wilson gets an “A” for effort, but her attempts at humor become obnoxious at times. Certainly Steve Martin dabbles with potty humor and slapstick in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but Wilson basks in it. Worse yet is the object of their faux affections: Alex Sharp seems too boyish to make the scheming love triangle work properly, and the chemistry-less awkwardness between this trifecta is perhaps the nail in the coffin for this film.

The only clear area where the film succeeds is the sense of ambience it displays. The aerial shots of the French Riviera’s natural beauty are lovely to watch, and the opulence shown of the lifestyle Josephine and Lonnie desire feels indulgent yet appropriate. The score is especially fitting, both as a downright homage to Scoundrels, but also as a standalone choice. Outside of this, the film lacks any discerning features that make it a remotely worthwhile endeavor. 

Unfortunately, The Hustle doesn’t come anywhere near the comedic brilliance of its classic predecessors, and instead joins the ranks of countless other remakes that were simply pointless. If you have any nostalgia for Bedtime Story or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this movie will fall flat, but if you’re going into it having never seen either of them, some enjoyment might be garnered.  Save yourself some money, however, and wait for it to come to cable or a streaming service; to pay the full price of admission for this one would be a hustle in itself.

-Andrea Riley