Film review: ‘The Hustle’
Having already rebooted many of the best 1980s movies in unsatisfactory fashion, Hollywood has moved on to remaking the slightly above-average ones. The lightly enjoyable 1988 film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” starred Michael Caine as a suave English scam artist who spars with an uncouth understudy played by Steve Martin. Because gender-flipping lead roles now passes for originality, “The Hustle” updates “Scoundrels” by inserting Anne Hathaway, who does a decent imitation of Caine, and Rebel Wilson, who at least matches Martin in terms of physical comedy. “The Hustle” is also set in sunny Beaumont-sur-Mer, though you get little feel for the place because the actors are so often shoddily green-screened onto their French Riviera backdrop.
Hathaway’s Josephine and her posh accent — at one point she’s told, “Julie Andrews wants her voice back” — happily separate wealthy, aging gentleman from their money and is displeased when Wilson’s Aussie swindler Penny infringes upon her prime poaching ground. While Josephine relies on subtlety and class, Penny runs more hand-to-mouth scams for a couple hundred dollars, or even a free lunch.
Josephine utilizes her police department accomplice, Inspector Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver), whose main role in the film is to absorb jokes about her presumed lesbianism, and her eye-rolling but dutiful manservant Albert (Nicholas Woodeson). Penny relies on nothing but her nerve until Josephine agrees to run some fresh cons with her. For some reason this involves training Wilson to curl her hair, sip champagne and practice knife throwing.
In “Scoundrels,” the main action begins when the protagonists target a dilettante played by Glenne Headly — an utter delight and the best part of the picture. In “The Hustle,” Thomas Alex Sharp plays the schemers’ mark, Thomas, and he is absolutely not up for it. As a hoodie-wearing tech millionaire, he looks and talks like a disinterested teenager and you can’t believe Josephine would even bore herself trying to bamboozle him.
Director Chris Addison makes the incredible decision to put the blandest possible character at the center of the action. It’s even more unfathomable considering he had far more delectable actors in the film already, including unrepentant horndog Timothy Simons and drawling Texan Dean Norris, who did superb work on television with “Veep” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively.
But we’re stuck with Thomas and, in order to woo him, Penny pretends to have hysterical blindness and Josephine disguises herself as a German psychoanalyst who might be able to cure her of such an affliction. To make matters worse, the women are supposed to develop feelings for the mark beyond a desire to fleece him. The mostly flat shenanigans include white cane violence, oysters in décolletage, and fraudulent Venmo transactions. Hathaway and Wilson try to lift a script with four credited writers but they’re let down in scene after scene.
Given how closely “The Hustle” mirrors its source material — many of the better lines and shots are borrowed directly from “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” — it’s unclear why you wouldn’t just watch the superior film on Amazon Prime.