The Hustle (2019)

“No man will ever believe a woman is smarter than he is.”

There isn’t much of a point to The Hustle, an unnecessary but wholly likable female led remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I’m not so sure there needs to be one either. The scams conceived by the duplicitous con artists don’t really matter in their own right, but the women executing the plans do, and the often uneven movie is worth seeing for the dueling brands of comedy on display. It’s a winner takes all battle of sophistication versus slapstick, so while it lacks for sense and logic, The Hustle still knows how to make us laugh. Sometimes that’s enough.

How they come to cross paths is of little importance. What matters is that they meet, team-up with the goal to swindle rich and arrogant men, and they’re good at what they do. I’m talking about Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway) and Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson). Josephine is the slinky, snobbish, British cosmopolitan of the duo and her massive home shows us that she’s played this game long enough to become a master of her craft. Penny is the novice of the two, using a self-pitying and ugly duckling formula, convincing guys that her beautiful “sister” (a stock supermodel image) is in some kind of desperate need for money ASAP. Their methods couldn’t be more different, but the end result is the same. It’s like 2001’s The Heartbreakers minus the creepy mother daughter dynamic.

If there’s any sort of message to be found in The Hustle, and I’m still on the fence as to whether or not there actually is, one could argue the movie wants to bolster body positivity. Once the two settle into a groove, Josephine and Penny decide to woo the same target to see who’s best. Josephine tries and fails to seduce the young, rich app developer Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp). He prefers Penny, who’s stuck pretending to be blind from a previous con, except she sees the way that he looks at her. The Hustle doesn’t make a lick of sense in these latter parts, and the piled on plot points seriously weigh the entire affair down, but its off the cuff humor still manages enough vicious personal barbs and clever jabs to keep us entertained.

Even those who have a great time watching The Hustle have to admit it’s not a great movie; it’s merely an adequate one with two talented actresses making the most out of this romp, and the direction / editing lacks personality and electricity. However, like its snake-charming leading ladies, the film hits enough of the right notes to reel us in. Hathaway uses her stunning dramatic skill to play her character with a stonewall face and an acerbic tongue, and Wilson balances the scale by giving a devoted physical performance, exaggerating the twists of her brows all while contorting her face into expressions which say more than most words could. The Hustle is nowhere as smooth or playfully inviting as Van McCoy’s classic Disco tune of the same name, but it has decent rhythm, a strong silly streak, and a willingness to do anything and everything within reason to get a laugh. Effort points are earned.

“This isn’t a likability contest.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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