Since Hollywood likes to reboot male-centric comedies with females as the leads, UA and Universal thought it would be a good idea to remake 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Scoundrels co-starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin and it perfectly balanced dry humor (courtesy of Caine) with sight gags (Martin). Scoundrels was a remake, too – it was inspired by the 1964 film Bedtime Story. With a script co-written by Jac Schaeffer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning and Dale Launer, The Hustle was directed by Chris Addison and co-stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson as con artists who prey on wealthy men.

Hathaway is Josephine and Wilson is Penny and Josephine, seeing Penny as a threat to her booming operation in Beaumont-sur-Mer, mentors Penny in an effort to get rid of her. They actually work well together but soon the two make a high-stakes bet to con an app designer (Alex Sharp) out of $500K. The winner stays in Beaumont-sur-Mer and continues to fleece unsuspecting rich men; the loser must leave and never return. Of course, two women going after the same man, and using any means possible to get him to part with his money, should be the highlight. Instead of hilarity, though, The Hustle is bland, trite and predicable, which sucks because Hathaway and Wilson form a formidable comedy duo.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you can easily spot the tropes Hathaway and Wilson play. Hathaway’s Josephine is the refined con artist, operating within a network she set up herself. She works alone despite help from Brigitte Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver) and Albert (Nicholas Woodeson). Oddly, Woodeson provides some of The Hustle’s funniest moments; not a good thing when he’s a bit player. Hathaway went a little over the top, using pronounced accents which would normally give away her ruse, but I’m okay with it because I expected The Hustle to be over the top. But using fake accents and seduction to con men is standard for someone as pretty as Hathaway, and that’s fine. But it’s overused and fairly boring, especially when Hathaway is made to employ old tricks.

Wilson’s Penny is the opposite; she’s rough around the edges, truly works alone and her cons are small-time compared with Josephine’s. Wilson is a divisive actress – you either love her physical comedy and condescending one-liners or you don’t. She goes all out at points, but she’s always playing up her size and looks. That’s all well and good but she always uses those with nearly all her roles. It’d be great if the writing team employed new ways to make Wilson funny, but sadly Wilson was left to do the same things she’s used to doing.

So, yes, one of the few highlights of The Hustle is the chemistry Hathaway and Wilson share, but it’s a wasted effort. But since they’re made to do things that are expected of them, and recycled gags pop in every scene, almost none of it works. They’re working with a so-so script that begins with a whimper and ends with predictable twist. Its twist is welcome, though, because it’s the one thing I found interesting, but by the time it happens you don’t care. Hopefully the pair can work together on another project that is worthy of their talents.

The Hustle is not worth the time. It’s an old concept in which its creators felt a simple gender swap and thinly-veiled #MeToo message would yield fresh results. And in regards to the latter, its twist undermines the pro-woman theme that The Hustle preaches. Yes, anything men can do women can do, too, and they can do better. But regardless of gender, The Hustle is a bad movie. It works better as a con that tricks audiences into paying to watch it. In fact, that is its greatest trick, but not one audiences will be happy with.

1.5 stars out of 5


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