FILM REVIEW – THE HUSTLE. With Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Casper Christensen. Written by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning and Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer. Directed by Chris Addison. Rated PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual content and language. 94 minutes.
THE HUSTLE is the third film version of a movie that began as “Bedtime Story” (1964) with Marlon Brando and David Niven, and the better known “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988) with Steve Martin and Michael Caine. The story of two con artists making a bet as to which will one will fleece their victim has revised the story to make the scammers women. That idea was apparently the last time anyone gave a thought to what they were doing.
Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway, sporting a variety of accents) lives a luxurious lifestyle on the French Riviera, financed by a series of gullible playboys. Glamorous, sophisticated, and dressed in a series of stunning outfits, she is everything that Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson) is not. Penny is brash and vulgar. Penny asks to be tutored by Josephine but eventually their rivalry comes to the fore, as they set their sights on a high-tech millionaire (Alex Sharp).
If the material seems familiar to fans of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” there’s a reason. Of the four screenwriters credited, three of them are the authors of the earlier film (and two of them are dead). This may be one of the most unnecessary remakes since Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” There’s little attempt to put a fresh spin on the material beyond the casting.
It might have seemed smart on paper. Hathaway knows her way around comedy, and Wilson has moved up from supporting player after attracting attention in smaller roles. The problem is that there is no on-screen chemistry between the two stars. They often seem like they’re characters in different movies. Hathaway’s Josephine is a cousin to her Daphne in “Ocean’s Eight,” while Wilson’s Penny is more akin to her Fat Amy in the “Pitch Perfect” series.
While the lavish locations (with Spain filling in for the south of France) are attractive, there are only intermittent laughs in what ought to be a rollicking comedy. Unfortunately, Wilson pretending to be blind or Hathaway adopting a cartoonish German accent are what passes for humor here. The two leads not only are missing chemistry and a well-developed script, they also lack the star power that might have overcome some of the flm’s problems. Both are talented actresses who have handled challenging comic material (in movies like “Colossal” and the recent “Isn’t it Romantic?”), but neither is a “star” in the sense of being able to “open” a film (i.e., where their mere presence is enough to attract the interest of a large number of filmgoers).
The only ones being hustled by “The Hustle” are the studio executives who greenlit the project, and moviegoers led to believe that simply retrofitting old male roles for young actresses is a breakthrough for female empowerment in Hollywood.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.