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With: 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
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual content and language
Running Time: 94
Date: 05/10/2019

The Hustle (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Rotten Pluck

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm all for female-driven movies, but Hollywood's latest series of remakes with women in men's roles (Ghostbusters, Ocean's 8, Overboard, etc.) is not exactly a complete solution. As Amanda Hess pointed out in a New York Times article, these movies are only allowing women to occupy roles that were envisioned for men, rather than creating roles for women from the ground up. This new one, The Hustle — based on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), which, itself, I had forgotten was a remake of Bedtime Story (1964) — probably doesn't deserve such in-depth analysis. It's a con-woman story in which the best cons happen off-screen, and what happens onscreen is the creakiest re-treads of old slapstick jokes imaginable. Remember the one where the hero slides across a wet floor, smacks into a podium, and then lays there a moment, dazed, before the thing on the top of the podium falls on him/her? That's here, completely unchanged.

Anne Hathaway gets the Michael Caine role, now called Josephine, and she mostly nails it. She's a statue of elegance, wearing — and looking amazing in — the most glorious dresses and shoes, leading her marks around with her sublime accents, sprinkled with the tiniest little moments of nuance and restraint. The best slapstick is, actually, a combination of broadness and stoicism, and Hathaway gets it. On the other hand, Rebel Wilson — in the Steve Martin role, as "Penny" — forgets all about the latter. Her best comedy has always been based on a lack of shame or guilt, unafraid to go into very strange places, letting her id flow freely. But that, combined with endless pratfalls, doesn't quite work here, and Wilson gets nary a laugh. (Even in Martin's lowest point in the original film, playing "Ruprecht," he imbued it with a little quietness.)

The incredibly lazy writing, by at least four scribes, actually includes a sequence in which Wilson's character invents the name of a Swiss doctor for her mark (Alex Sharp), in the hopes that he'll pay $500,000 for her "blindness" treatment. Even though the name was made up in the moment, Hathaway's character somehow immediately sets up a website, an email, and an Instagram account so that the mark can find her in the lobby below, and all this even though she's not even in the room and couldn't have heard the conversation. That's just one — take my word for it — of the movie's many little annoyances. The Hustle does have a few scenes that aren't terrible, however, and Hathaway is good enough that, if a better movie were made all around her, she wouldn't have to change much.

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