“The Hustle” (2019)
Running time: 94 minutes
Written by: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, and Jac Schaeffer
Directed by: Chris Addison
Featuring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp and Dean Norris
Josephine Chesterfield: “Why are women better suited to the con than men?”
Penny: “Cause we’re used to faking it?”
Recently released on DVD and Blu-ray is the remake “The Hustle” (2019) with a gender swapped cast that takes the original “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988) (which was a remake of “Bedtime Story” (1964)) updates the story somewhat with what audiences might expect, a very routine story and outcome that offers nothing new in terms of story, humour or narrative, one might actually see this a step backward as it feels unfunny, almost painful to actually view.
The original in this case “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” featured Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the leads as two conmen who are attempting to outdo each other as well as proving who is the better at their job, it was directed by Frank Oz who like his leads had proven he could transcend his own Muppet career priding a hit movie that was funny but contained a plot and narrative that audiences would love, it has become classic.
It may be easy and reductive to say that movies that swap male leads for female ones have come about because we are now in a post #metoo environment (as well as some supposed ‘woke’ environment) but that is simply not the case. It is true to say that there are possibly more that have been put into production in the present environment with this one, the recent “Oceans 8” (2018) and the comedy “What men want” (2019) which have all met with varying degrees of success, like any other movie. In terms of “The Hustle”, which did make money on a modest budget, we have a totally uninspiring movie that thinks once male characters are swapped out for female ones the hard work has been done, unfortunately that is far from the truth.
The movie revolves around Penny, who has been a small-time con artist trapping men into giving her money, whereas Josephine is a sophisticated con artist who cons the world’s richest men out of their money. The two con artists meet on their way to the French Riviera for the first time. However, Penny gets arrested, after which Josephine pays her bail and advises Penny leave the country. Penny finds out she was conned by Josephine and starts to plan revenge.
“The Hustle” has been directed by Chris Addison who here is making his first movie, which shows as he deploys many set ups and shots that seem like they exist just for their stars, are inconsistent, feeling like both actresses are pulled in different directions, almost different movies. Addison is best known for playing Ollie Reeder in the “The Thick of it” as well as being a stand-up comedian. Some of this inconsistency might stem from the fact that the movie has been written by four people, not only that but all men, which seems incongruous to the central idea of the movie, that is a gender swapped version of “Dirty Rotten scoundrels”. Even on the surface of this movie once the credits roll one of the first things to notice is that there are no women involved in the direction or writing, something that once the movie rolls is obvious. The actual comedy is played for cheap laughs as well as demeaning towards gender, to me this is a huge mistake. Even thinking back to “Dirty Rotten scoundrels” the humour was actually very physical with a one upmanship that kept the entire narrative interesting without actually debasing someone based on their gender. I actually felt sorry for both Hathaway and Wilson that they had to spout some of the terrible lines contained within this movie, as both are exceptionally talented actresses who have made their names in interesting movies as well as moving around genres at ease.
As you would expect from both Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson they are both extremely fun as well as eminently watchable, both are talented actresses who do their best to keep the movie alive as well as engaging the audience. If there was any doubt in the ability of both actresses to draw an audience then it should be put to rest as they are the only reason to see this movie whether on the big or the small screen. What an audience actually gets out of this movie is questionable, it is tired in almost all the ways anyone could think of, the plot is a complete re-tread with no originality that asks nothing of anyone in front of, or behind the camera.
In a movie like “The Hustle” there needs to be something more present to keep a plot driving forward especially in a comedy that is a remake and one that changes the gender of the protagonists. Keeping the overall plot similar to its source material is fine, this is present in most remakes with tweaks made to update situations and other aspects to make sure that a remake is worth pursuing in the first place. If the movie had been at least a bit more original with its humour as well as the use of that humour by the main characters this could have been a successful movie, but instead it is reduced to a put down marathon that seems to think that being a woman is funny enough, which it isn’t, it just pushes male driven stereotypes of feminism, something a woman writer might have been able to tell the boys.