Film review: ‘THE HUSTLE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

As any film fan who has seen the trailer would realise, The Hustle is a remake of 80’s comedy classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin and was itself a remake of the 1964 film Bedtime Story which featured David Niven and Marlon Brando (in an intentional comic role). Notably, The Hustle has a gender flip with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson now in the lead roles. Unfortunately, while The Hustle reproduces nearly all of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels main plot points, it painfully lacks that film’s sophistication, wit and charm.

Anne Hathaway steps into the Michael Caine/ Lawrence Jamieson role as Josephine, a posh British con-woman who seduces and fleeces dopey, lustful men in the sunlit French Riviera town of Beaumont Sur Mer. Her lucrative gig is threatened when Aussie yob Lonnie (Rebel Wilson in the Steven Martin/ Freddy Benson role) begins a low-rent con on Josephine’s expensive turf. A battle between the two con-artists leads to a wager to see who can first extract a tidy sum from young tech billionaire, Thomas (Alex Sharp).

It’s an often-uncomfortable experience watching a film that closely matches a beloved movie but trashes a lot of its appeal. Most painfully The Hustle is rarely funny as it replaces Scoundrels’ genuinely clever humour with crass bodily function gags. Some audience members were chuckling at these scenes but a little too often we could hear crickets. One of Scoundrels’ most iconic moments was the Ruprecht sequence but the equivalent here is a complete dud. Fortunately, the entire film doesn’t misfire like this segment otherwise it would need an 18-wheel truck to carry home all its Golden Raspberry awards.

Also, the characters don’t always work. Hathaway seems oddly uncomfortable as the supposedly sophisticated con-woman and seductress; with her outrageously plummy accent and exaggerated gestures she’s too much of a caricature. On the other hand, Rebel Wilson just plays Rebel Wilson. This might be a blessing for some who love her style of cynical, piss-taking Aussie bogan comedy and her character’s oddball logic. Some audience members seemed to revel in her more obscene outbursts but these start to grate. It’s refreshing that the filmmakers let her be an Aussie although it’s a little disturbing to think that Hollywood now sees Australians as the crass white trash tourist of the world. Disappointingly, the supporting players don’t make much impact. Tim Blake Nelson who plays butler Portnoy makes very little impression unlike Ian MacDiarmid who played the equivalent role in Scoundrels (as well as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars). Similarly, Anton Rogers who played the shady Police Inspector, Andre in Scoundrels was hilariously corrupt while Ingrid Olivar’s equivalent character here is a humourless functionary.

Director Chris Addison, who began as a stand-up comedian and appeared in British political satire In the Thick of it, gives the films a sparkling sheen and provides some fine, tourist bureau-friendly vistas of the French Riviera. Still, he fails to infuse the film with atmosphere and energy and it often feels static. Admittedly, this was at times a problem with Frank Oz’s direction in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Staying within the Scoundrels template, The Hustle couldn’t go completely wrong and there are a few engaging moments but for the most part this is a fizzer.

Nick’s rating: **

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Chris Addison.

Release date: 9th May 2019.

Running time: 94 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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