Everything old is new again, and the newest property being mined for nostalgia is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The 1988 comedy classic starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine (itself a remake of the mostly forgotten film Bedtime Story with Marlon Brando and David Niven) has been spit back out as The Hustle. Trading in male con artists for female ones, this new film stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson as two competing thieves trying to swindle a tech millionaire out of his money. On one hand, you have the seasoned sophisticate Josephine (Anna Hathaway) and on the other a low-rent, bottom-of-the-barrel conster, Penny (Rebel Wilson). Both have radically different views on scamming, resulting in clashes of work and personality.
While Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not necessarily an all-time comedy classic, it was a mainstay on cable TV for most of the 1990s. The original movie has some decent twists, some clever editing and Caine and Martin have unforgettable chemistry: The Hustle has none of that. The movie seems to take everything that worked in the original film and thrown it out of the window. Even in updating the film for an all-female cast feels like an afterthought. The movie would likely have been better if they had just pulled a gender-reversal on the script without any other significant changes.
After a lacklustre cold-open featuring a catfishing storyline, the movie leans into a Saul Bass-inspired animated sequence. Imagine the opening sequences of Catch Me If You Can or the original Pink Panther movies. Now take away all of the personality, artistry and craft. While it is clearly meant to set the tone for a bouncy summer jaunt, a high concept fantasy of wealth, privilege and trickery, it just exposes how many corners the film cuts. Like everything in The Hustle, it seems to be treated as an afterthought and churned out without much consideration or passion.
If you’ve seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Hustle follows many of the same beats but strips away their cleverness. There are a lot of set-ups and very few payoffs. The movie integrates a strange teacher and student dynamic, including an extended training montage, only to do nothing with it. The only truly original con, dubbed “The Lord of the Rings” — an elaborate plot involving a royal bloodline and some bad prosthetic teeth — is the closest the film gets to finding its stride and it still fails to elicit any real laughs.
One of the film’s fundamental problems is that Hathaway and Wilson feel as though they are acting in different movies. They have very little chemistry and are operating on completely different tonal wavelengths. Neither seems rooted in the real world, but the movie doesn’t push enough into silliness or glamour in order to compensate. Hathaway is given an entire collection of beautiful and extravagant clothing to wear, which hints at the modish pop version that this film may have aspired to with its ’60s throwback opening sequence. Unfortunately, the TV-style shooting and editing do little favours to her haute couture aesthetic. In general, the artless style of the movie’s image, editing and sound design contribute negatively to its comedy and overall pacing.
The Hustle is not outwardly awful and maybe even suffers for that, too. It’s rare, but the movie is so infuriatingly middle of the road that it actually feels worse than movies that are more obviously trainwrecks. It feels like an episode of a beloved franchise TV show that has long lost its way. The budget has been slashed and they’re going through the repetitive motions. Maybe one of the lead actors had to drop out and some new actor was hired but never quite found their footing. It has so much been there, done that atmosphere that it’s hard to even find the energy to break down its flaws.
Like many uninspired films set in an exotic locale, above all else, The Hustle’s sunkissed south of France location makes it seem as though the production was merely an excuse for a seaside vacation. There’s not much new here and nothing to get excited about. Instead, it is just another all-female remake that feels like a cheap cash-in more than anything else. ■
The Hustle opens in theatres on Friday, May 10. Watch the trailer below.
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