REVIEW: The Hustle (2019)

hustle_posterMovie remakes are not, in and of themselves, necessarily a bad thing. Given the passage of time, some stories benefit from being revisited or reimagined. Others provide new perspectives through being made in different countries or cultures. Sometimes a great concept is not best served the first time around, leaving numerous creative possibilities open for creatives to essentially have another go. Then there are the films that simply want to use a title and a brand to improve their commercial changes.

The Hustle is not even one of those kinds of a remake, because while it remakes Franz Oz’s celebrated 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which is itself a remake) it does not keep the title. Instead it simply steals the concept and general plot, swaps the gender of its two leads, and has a red hot go at recapturing the earlier work’s success. It fails, and pretty miserably so. It is the sort of smug, wrong-headed attempt at comedy that begs for a withering series of snarky put-downs, but honestly? Why bother.

Anne Hathaway plays international con artist Josephine Chesterfield, whose illegal activities are disrupted by the arrival of small-time criminal Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson). After reluctantly agreeing to teach Rust the tools of the trade, Chesterfield finds herself directly competing with Rust for the attentions of rich, gullible mark Thomas Westerberg (Alex Sharp).

Just as there is little more tedious in film than a comedy that is not funny, there is also little more tiresome than a crime caper that is predictable – and The Hustle manages to be both. It is toothless where it thinks it is edgy, and annoying where it thinks it is charming. Jokes fall flat. Comic timing is off. It is quite simply a rather dull way to spend 90 minutes. Its comparative brevity – and I mean this sincerely – is one of its few saving graces.

Director Chris Addison makes his feature debut here, after performing in Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It and In the Loop, and directing for his American television series Veep. He was reasonably good then. With The Hustle, a very different kind of comedy exercise, he absolutely flounders.

Rebel Wilson, who also produced the film, replays an awful lot of old humour from earlier films, largely playing on the fact that she is ungainly and fat. Anne Hathaway seems to fail to express any sort of effective humour at all. It is a shame that British comic actor Ingrid Oliver is stuck playing a supporting character to Hathaway’s lead, because she would probably have managed to squeeze one or two laughs out of a screenplay that desperately needs some.

The Hustle was only released two years ago; I am reasonably certain most viewers have forgotten that it ever existed at all. That’s probably for the best; no one involved in this debacle is going to want it hanging like a millstone around their neck, or like a bad smell, or a dead cat on the table. Pick your description, you don’t have to be inventive. Lord knows The Hustle didn’t bother to.

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