Why The Hustle has no sting

by James Robins / 22 May, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - The Hustle movie review

A gender-swapping redo of a con-man comedy doesn't make good on its promise.

In 1988, Michael Caine and Steve Martin plundered the sunny shores of the French Riviera in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As a petty small-time Yankee con man, Martin played the foil to Caine’s wry shark, an English gent in unruffled linen.

They swindled holidaying ladies out of their jewels, but got their comeuppance at the hands of a superior woman. It was based on the 1964 David Niven-Marlon Brando film Bedtime Story.

Now comes The Hustle, directed by British comedian Chris Addison, a remake of that film and an attempt to turn the tables. Anne Hathaway plays the sleek and stunningly-outfitted Josephine opposite Rebel Wilson’s backpacking Australian trickster, Penny. This time, it’s the men who are the marks.

For the first act at least, The Hustle is a whipcrack contest of wits and savvy, in which the punchlines have a genuine payoff. It’s much smarter and funnier than the ’88 version. Hathaway is a miracle of demureness, and her character leaves Danish gamblers and Texan oil tycoons wilting. Wilson, meanwhile, dials up her signature crassness. The result is (somehow) hilarious rather than exhausting.

To settle their petty sparring, the pair agree to a bet: whoever can coax a cool half-million from a baby-faced tech entrepreneur (Alex Sharp) wins. The loser must leave the Riviera. At this point, despite a few snappy jokes, the film starts to sag, losing the energy that kicked it off.

Then there’s the gender-swap problem. The point of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was to send up its male leads for their arrogance and lechery – that was the crux of the satire. The Hustle, however, has copied the plot, twist included. Which means the righteous female vengeance motivation established at the start must be undercut.

Indeed, it’s Wilson who gets an unexpectedly pointed monologue about male condescension and ridicule. But by the time it’s delivered, The Hustle has already squandered its promise. If it had kept the brio and characters, but swapped out the story, it would have been much more potent.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★

Video: Universal Pictures NZ

This article was first published in the May 25, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Are FitBits a boon for your health – or a threat to your privacy?
107343 2019-06-20 00:00:00Z Health

Are FitBits a boon for your health – or a threat t…

by Donna Chisholm

One in five New Zealanders owns a fitness tracker, but what effect do they have? Donna Chisholm investigates.

Read more
Larry Smarr: The world's most self-measured man
107358 2019-06-20 00:00:00Z Health

Larry Smarr: The world's most self-measured man

by Donna Chisholm

A US computer scientist who has been monitoring the state of his health for nearly two decades says he’s healthier now than he’s been in 15 years.

Read more
The most common scams – and how to avoid them
107425 2019-06-20 00:00:00Z Tech

The most common scams – and how to avoid them

by Joanna Wane

"Dear Beloved Friend"....

Read more
The National get in touch with their feminine side in I Am Easy to Find
107163 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Music

The National get in touch with their feminine side…

by James Belfield

As The National announce two intimate theatre shows in Auckland, James Belfield reviews their brave and collaborative new album.

Read more
German violinist Carolin Widmann brings her daring style to NZ
107272 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Music

German violinist Carolin Widmann brings her daring…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The award-winning musician will make her NZSO debut playing Stravinsky’s only violin concerto.

Read more
In defence of NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew
107277 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Sport

In defence of NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew

by Paul Thomas

Naysayers may rail against rugby’s continued “corporatisation” under Steve Tew, but he’s given them plenty to applaud as well.

Read more
How New Zealand's community newspapers are bucking the trend
107362 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

How New Zealand's community newspapers are bucking…

by Venetia Sherson

Community newspapers are bucking the trend, as enterprising new owners breath life back into them.

Read more
What filmmaker Andrea Bosshard learned from her goldsmith father Kobi
107381 2019-06-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

What filmmaker Andrea Bosshard learned from her go…

by Ken Downie

Filmmaker Andrea Bosshard inherited a creative streak from her goldsmith father Kobi but he also taught her an important life lesson.

Read more