13th May2019

‘The Hustle’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Emma Davies, Dean Norris, Casper Christensen | Written by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, Jac Schaeffer | Directed by Chris Addison

hustle-poster

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star as a pair of rival con artists in The Hustle, a remake of 1988′s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (with Michael Caine and Steve Martin), which was itself a remake of 1964′s Bedtime Story, with David Niven and Marlon Brando. That might sound like a tantalising proposition on paper, but the actual film is a profound disappointment with an almost criminal lack of laughs.

Wilson (who also produced, and it shows) plays low-rent Aussie grifter Penny Rust, whose regular scam involves fleecing gullible men she meets on a dating app. On a train to the South of France, she meets high class con artist Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway), who immediately schemes to divert Penny from her home turf of Riviera town Beaumont-sur-Mer, on the grounds that “a poacher shooting at rabbits may scare big game away”.

Once Penny cottons on to the fact that Josephine is a fellow swindler, she shows up at the latter’s picturesque cliffside mansion house and begs to be schooled in the art of conning millionaires. Josephine reluctantly agrees and the pair run a scam called The Lord of the Rings, luring wealthy suitors and then scaring them off with Penny posing as lunatic sister “Princess Hortense” (echoing Steve Martin’s turn as “Prince Ruprecht”). However, a dispute over money puts the pair back at each other’s throats and they agree on a wager: they will both attempt to con tech billionaire Thomas (Alex Sharp) and whoever loses has to leave town.

The Hustle‘s biggest problem is that it simply isn’t funny. It’s peppered with wisecracks, sight gags and physical comedy bits, but none of them land, which becomes more and more awkward as the film goes on. Indeed, it says something that the film’s best gag (and its one note of originality) is Wilson wearing a dress that allows her to disguise herself as a rubbish bag when she bends over.

On a similar note, you expect a degree of cleverness from a con artist film, but that’s simply not in evidence here and there’s a frustrating lack of logic and thought throughout (the training montage scene, for example, makes zero sense). Part of the problem is that the film sticks too closely to the plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but it’s not as if that film is a sacred cow. Indeed, truth be told, it’s also a little disappointing (all anyone remembers is Prince Ruprecht) and could easily be improved upon.

It comes as an extra disappointment to discover that The Hustle is the directorial debut of Britain’s own Chris Addison, whose impeccable comedy credentials include his work on both The Thick of It and Veep. Whatever the reason, his comic timing has deserted him here. He also fails to establish the correct tone (it’s more or less all over the place, as illustrated by an entirely unnecessary gross-out gag) and never even manages to clarify who we should be rooting for in the story.

On top of everything else, the film fails to take advantage of the gender swap. In the #MeToo era, you’re expecting a bit of bite at the bare minimum (the poster’s tag-line hints as much), but the male victims are so thinly sketched that they barely register. The exception is Penny’s first mark, played by Timothy Simons, who wisely doesn’t veer too far from his obnoxious Jonah Ryan persona on Veep.

On the plus side, the actors are clearly enjoying themselves and there’s some low-key enjoyment to be had just watching them do their thing, even if it never leads to any big laughs. In Hathaway’s case, that involves busting out a bewildering array of accents, but once again, there’s no comedy pay-off – we’re expecting a moment when her “real” accent comes out (Penny even says at one point, “We all know you’re from Wisconsin”), but it never happens.

Still, at least it’s all very picturesque, both in the sun-drenched Riviera setting and in Hathaway’s colourful wardrobe choices. It’s just a shame that the film never delivers on its full potential. It never even works Van McCoy’s The Hustle into the soundtrack, that’s how lazy it is.

** 2/5

The Hustle is in UK cinemas now.

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