Dateworthy? “The Hustle”
DATEWORTHY? YES. The story of two female scam artists, one low-rent played by Rebel Wilson and the other high-class played by Anne Hathaway, who team up to take down the men who have wronged them, “The Hustle” has a fair amount of laughs but occasionally oddly paced scenes make this reboot of the ‘80s Steve Martin-Michael Caine classic “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” seem off its game. But the two leads’ fizzy funny energy carries this over the finish line to being a fun time.
Hollywood’s in the middle of a trend of rebooting long-popular movies with female leads replacing male movie stars from the originals. This week’s movie, “The Hustle,” is a reboot of the 1988 Steve Martin-Michael Caine comedy classic “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and thankfully its own star combo of Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson makes this succeed on its own most of the time.
Two high-flying stars team up for a comedic battle of wills
The movie opens by following an American con woman named Penny (Rebel Wilson), who crassly tries to con men out of $500 at a time by meeting them for dates via the Tinder app and being nowhere near as attractive as the photos in her app profile. She then tells the men that she is a friend of the more beautiful woman they were hoping for, and collecting $500 to pay for breast augmentation surgery for the woman they had hoped to meet.
Improbably, one man after another falls for this scheme, leading to Penny running from police and guards. She picks up an ad for travel in France, and is next seen using her devious wiles to land cheap plane tickets, VIP train seating and more.
It’s on one such train that another con artist, a British woman named Josephine (Anne Hathaway), overhears Penny in action. She specializes in major ripoffs costing her victims hundreds of thousands of dollars, but sees enough spark and rude sass in Penelope to believe she could pose a competitive threat to her.
Sure enough, Penny repeatedly manages to get to Josephine’s potential victims faster than her, and Josephine responds by getting her tossed back to the United States through the help of a lesbian cop who is her friend. But Penny surprises them both by coming back and arriving at Josephine’s large estate, and begs to be trained how to be ag great con artist before they team up.
But when Josephine’s hard-driving, unfair orders break Penny’s spirit, she turns the tables and the two decide to see who can make $500,000 off a wealthy younger man (Alex Wolff). An elaborate and usually series of tricks ensue, with unexpected further twists along the way.
Feminine energy brings a fresh take on the comedy
“The Hustle” could be easily dismissed as an example of Hollywood’s creative weaknesses these days, in which far too many movies are sequels, remakes or reboots that put a slight twist on the premises of popular past movies, but the star power of Wilson and Hathaway helps keep this buoyantly funny on its own terms.
Director Chris Addison slips up on occasion with the physical comedy bits, as they seem strangely paced and a little bit slow in execution in some scenes. But Wilson helps save the day with her unique energy and personality.
The movie is marred somewhat by numerous sexual innuendoes and jokes, but none are particularly graphic in and of themselves. The casual attitude towards sexual relations is a bit off-putting, though most of the time, the characters’ actual actions and results are not as clearly portrayed as their verbalized intentions.
Overall, “The Hustle” is a fun escape that stands enough to be entertaining on its own terms. It’s not the most original movie around, but its zippy way with a storyline that’s survived over 50 years and two prior adaptations makes it worthwhile viewing for a laugh-filled date night.
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.