I know I’m hard on comedy movies. I remind you guys of that almost every time I review one of these films. But I will admit there are a few tropes that can make a comedy film interesting just from previews alone. For example, as one-note as she can be there’s a certain charm in the comedic antics that Rebel Wilson brings to the screen. Team her with another proven talent in Anne Hathaway and I admit I was kind of looking forward to their latest project, “The Hustle”. I will admit going into “The Hustle” I didn’t realize what it really was meant to be, yet another gender swapped comedy film (because you know those always go so well). This time it’s a remake of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” from 1988 only with Wilson and Hathaway in the lead roles instead of Steve Martin and Michael Kane. Since I haven’t really seen too many comedies this year and I always like to focus on the best of different genres I decided to give this remake a chance and see if I agree with the critics who have torn it apart or if I see something more valuable. This is my review of “The Hustle”.
“The Hustle” stars Rebel Wilson as con artist Penny Rust who decides to try her luck in the French Riviera. Along the way she meets a more practiced fellow con artist named Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway) who sees Penny as a potential thorn in her side. When Penny ruins Josephine’s latest con, Josephine decides to force Penny out of her territory through reverse psychology, training her in the art of the con while refusing to pay her. However, when Penny proves to be stubborn and persistent the two women decide to compete for the territory by seeing who can con a specific mark, internet millionaire Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp), leading to high jinks and one-upmanship as the women utilize every trick in their respective books to win the bet.
So, this is a truly rare occurrence for a comedy movie. I actually mildly disagree with the critics. Don’t get me wrong, “The Hustle” is only an okay movie at best and doesn’t hold a candle to the classic comedy it was made to emulate, but I honestly had a lot of fun watching it. I think a lot of the criticism directed at this movie is inspired by its failure to live up to its predecessor. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a classic so it really is a hefty goal to try and reach the same level of entertainment and quality. While “The Hustle” doesn’t really have the quality, it does prove to be a fun experience in its own right. A lot of the story follow the same beats as the previous film but with a more contemporary edge as Rebel Wilson’s Penny and Anne Hathaway’s Josephine attempt to fool an internet millionaire in a series of interconnected schemes. This results in a movie that might follow the same narrative as the previous film but still manages to add its own touch of effective humor. The high jinx and slapstick are all ridiculous and, at times, over the top but I can’t say I didn’t laugh numerous times watching it all unfold.
Part of the movie’s charm comes from its leading ladies, Wilson and Hathaway, who make a surprisingly fun duo on the big screen. Wilson is the least impressive of the two sticking to her one-note approach to humor that might have worked well in the superior “Isn’t It Romantic” but feels mostly passable and average here. However, when paired with the immensely talented Hathaway, whose performance not only allows her to stretch her comedic muscles but also show off her impressive talent for accents and shifting between different caricatures and personalities, you get a pair of odd balls who are believably cunning and play off each other well. While the rest of the cast, including their mark played by Alex Sharp, tend to fade into the background, Wilson and Hathaway make even the worst jokes feel ridiculously entertaining. It’s because of them that while “The Hustle” is not by any definition are “good” movie it still provided me with laughs and didn’t feel like a waste of time. They make it fun and that’s all you can really ask for with a feature like this.
Sadly, there’s still plenty to complain about with “The Hustle”. Yes, it was amusing, and the leads were fun to watch but there’s no escaping the film’s poor attempt to capture the charm of its predecessor. I went into this review promising myself that I’d try to avoid too many comparisons to “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, but it’s unavoidable especially since the plot is basically a modernized version of the story from the previous movie. “The Hustle” could have and most definitely would have benefited from a huge dose of originality and creativity and probably would have made for a even more enjoyable film all on its own, but while it might have some fun moments that help it stand out if you’ve never seen the 1988 version (itself a remake by the way) when compared to that previous film it’s inferior in every way. The slapstick doesn’t land near as effectively, the story actually feels a bit dated and at times very forced, and the whole production feels paint by numbers. It really does feel like the filmmakers were trying too hard to emulate the previous movie and not hard enough to make “The Hustle” something truly inspired and all its own.
This is most apparent in its handling of its gender-swap gimmick. “The Hustle” joins a slew of other recent comedy remakes that changed out male leads for female characters and while this movie hinted in the commercials at utilizing this change up to focus on female empowerment (“no man will ever believe a woman is smarter than he is”) once again we have a film where the gender-swap feels like nothing more than a gimmick. There are some interested aspects that do speak to gender stereotypes with Wilson having to use her brains to get an edge because she’s overweight and Hathaway being able to use her looks to get the job done but other than that having women involved just feels like a cheap way to justify the movie’s existence. There were so many possibilities too. I mean what if the movie changed things up and made these two team up to con a man who was doing wrong to women? There’s an idea. It’s a concept even hinted in Penny’s motivations for being a con artist in the first place. But no, “The Hustle” decided to take the easy root and stick to the formula set by the original film. One of these days I would truly like to see a female-led remake try something unique and be more than just an attempt to create a female version of a previous male-led hit.
Even with that said though I did enjoy “The Hustle” as a shameless and goofy comedy. I just wish is was an all-around better film. It has plenty of moments that will bring you laughs if all you’re looking for is an hour and a half of comedic escapism. But, it’s also a feature that wastes its potential on trying to be as good as the film that came before it instead of truly embracing an identity all its own. It’s not “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and it never should have tried to be. There was plenty of potential for this story to go its own direction and be something greater than what it ended up being. Even with its fun and charming leads and its moments of legitimate humor “The Hustle” is a basic comedy remake that should have been so much more. Still, I enjoyed what I got just as a form of cinematic entertainment I didn’t have to think too hard about for a while. Would I see it again? Probably not. Will I remember it? Not likely. Do I regret giving it a chance? Not at all because as much as I’ve seen better and the final product could have been improved it also could have been a whole lot worse.