New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: The Hustle

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are gonna make great movies, but this isn’t one of them. This remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels never elicits more than a few chuckles. The 1988 version starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin about a couple of grifters had some teeth-clenching, painfully funny moments. The pain here is a plot unequal to the potential talent on screen. 

In this version, Director Chris Addison (Veep) pulls comedic punches to make his Hathaway and Wilson likable rogues instead of full on nasty criminals. Writers Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning and Dale Launer who wrote the 80’s script are joined by Jan Schaeffer to give this a fem-centric twist. 

Hathaway, who hit all the right comedic notes in Ocean’s 8, is the droll Brit con artist, Josephine, working the French Riviera from her seaside villa running her scams. Hathaway is capable of more comedy and simply reacts to Wilson more as a straight woman. We never care about Josephine because there’s nothing to care about. We’re never given one bit of her backstory.

Josephine’s perfect operation is thrown into chaos with the entrance of Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson), the Australian low-rent version grifter who wants a piece of the action. Wilson plays to her comedic strengths with the majority of the slapstick gags, like the knife throwing scene, and wrestling with a champagne bottle. When push comes to shove she spends a lot of time standing around with a blank stare because she fakes being blind to fool a rich tech wiz (Alex Sharp). In this day and age, who thinks that using disability is a comedic device? 

At least there’s plenty of gorgeous scenery along the Riviera and the glam costuming is sparkling and inventive. Especially when Rebel Wilson uses her clothing, repeatedly, to melt into the scenery.

Maybe the creative team believes that because these con artists target men who are sexist pigs and deserve some #MeToo reckoning, it’s ok to use blindness for laughs. In the opening scene Penny waits to see her victim’s reaction to her physical appearance in person opposed to what she presented on line, before deciding to take him down. 

That makes the resulting film all the more disappointing. The Hustle could and should have been a platform for these two talented actresses and an acclaimed Director to make some pointed social commentary with wit, charm and laughs. Instead we get a movie beneath them and a good argument to not do remakes. 

The twists and turns are a device to do I Love Lucy style physical comedy. 

Wilson as one of the producers pulls out the stops to be totally uninhibited. She can pull it off.  

At 93 minutes, this movie feels much longer. It originally was going to receive an R rating. In a recent interview, Anne Hathaway tells the story that Rebel Wilson, who studied law, argued successfully to the MPAA that women should be judged equally to men when it comes to on-screen raunch. She could have saved her breath. Don’t be fooled by these con artists. Keep your hands on your wallet when you walk by the box office unless you want to see a frivolous romp where Hathaway and Wilson square off. But like sweets, this eye candy is no substitute for substance.


MGM        93 Minutes            PG-13

from Movies and Shakers

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