Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) is a glamorous, seductive Brit who defrauds gullible wealthy men. Penny (Wilson) amasses wads of cash by ripping off her marks in neighborhood bars. Despite their different methods, both are masters of the art of the fleece so they con the men that have wronged them. Wilson’s talent for physicality and Hathaway’s withering wit are a combustible combination as the pair of scammers pull out of the stops to swindle a naïve tech billionaire, played by Alex Sharp (How to Talk to Girls at Parties), in this hilarious comedy. (from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
While it's easy to harp on a film that seems to be nothing more than a shameless remake, Hollywood has definitely churned out some really excellent remakes through the years, too (to name a few: the 2001 Ocean's 11, 2010's True Grit, 1999's The Mummy, 1940's His Girl Friday, and The Magnificent Seven). But the bad outweighs the good, and I think it's much easier to name failed remakes than good ones (Let's see: The Truth About Charlie, Overboard, War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2017's The Mummy, Poseidon -- I could go on, although, to be fair, many of them still have some good moments or performances). So where exactly does The Hustle fall on the remake quality spectrum?
I've been a fan of the 1988 Michael Caine, Steve Martin comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for years, and it's one I grew to appreciate more as I got older. The performances in the film are fantastic, the comedy is solid, and it's a very memorable 80's film. However, I don't think I realized that it itself was a remake until watching the special features for The Hustle. Marlon Brando and David Niven previously starred in 1964's Bedtime Story, which was the first telling of this con-man rivalry tale. Since I haven't seen it (although, now I want to), I'm not sure how much Dirty Rotten Scoundrels compares to Bedtime Story, however, I can tell you how it compares with this year's direct remake, The Hustle. (UPDATE: I found Bedtime Story streaming in full on YouTube. The movie is extremely similar to both of the remakes, except it has a much happier ending. The twist ending of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a clever one, and The Hustle mimics it almost identically.)
The Hustle takes the 1988 film's premise and flips the genders. Instead of two men competing to be the top dog in the con game, and instead of them both chasing a single female mark, this film features two female con-women chasing a male mark. And, sadly, if you've seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, there really are no surprises in The Hustle as it plays out beat-for-beat in similar fashion. Even similar shots from the 1988 film are mimicked, and the end result just feels like a poor imitation of what had come before it. At what point does homage become nothing more than a lesser shadow of what it's trying to honor? It's unfortunate, but The Hustle is a largely unfunny retread of everything that made Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as good as it was.
For starters, there's casting. British comedienne Rebel Wilson steps into the Steve Martin role (just... let that sink in for a moment), mostly because she actually had pitched the idea for this gender-swap remake and serves as a producer on the film. Academy Award-winning American actress Anne Hathaway takes the more accomplished con-man role previously played by Michael Caine, but she plays the role with a British accent and class. Of the two, Hathaway truly gives an admirable performance and is easily the best thing this movie has going for it. For Wilson, unless you're a fan of her particular schtick (which I'm not), I'm afraid what she brings to the film just doesn't work (at least, not in its favor). She admits in the featurettes that accompany the home release of the film that, as a producer, she was free to bring more of her own brand of comedy to the film, and that's certainly evident (kind of like Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler usually do with their films). I'd have to say the only scene that genuinely elicited a laugh from me was when Hathaway's character--posing as a doctor--tests Wilson's character's affliction--in this case, she's faking blindness--in front of their mark. It's wonderfully played and a fun exchange between the two, recreating a standout moment from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but sadly, I find it difficult to highlight much else that stood out about this comedy.
The content contains a fair amount of language and quite a bit of crass, sexual humor. Wilson says the film's lone "F" word at the end of the film when trying to pronounce a real-life location (that is spelled in a way that looks like it should be pronounced that way), and she appears the mouth the "F" word twice in an earlier scene. There is some blasphemy, as well as several uses of the "S" word, among other cuss words. There is no nudity, but there is one off-camera sex scene, and another where Hathaway's character tries to seduce a man while wearing a cleavage-revealing slip-style lingerie. The aforementioned sex scene features Wilson's Penny trying to convince a man in an airplane bathroom that they should have sex there. We then hear thumping from outside the bathroom and see the occupied/vacant sign flash back and forth quickly during this. Lastly, there is some violence, but it's all done comedically. The worst may be when Penny, as part of a con, pretends to shoot the butler who is running across the field.
If you're fans of either of the main cast, and maybe haven't seen either of the films this movie is copying, there's a chance you may enjoy The Hustle way more than I did. But if you've seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this film comes off as a lazy and uninspired remake that even borrows the same twist at the end, and carries it on through till the final scenes exactly as Scoundrels did. (Although, I did appreciate the epilogue scene that shows life for the characters a few months later.) But, for the most part, The Hustle is so much like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that you're much better off skipping this remake altogether and just watching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels--either again, or for the first time. Oh, but if you do decide to see The Hustle, and you brave the obnoxious pop song during its end credits, there is a deleted scene tacked on at the end that shows more of one of their sillier cons, and it's worth a watch if you liked the film.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/17/19)
Hitting the Mark (4:35) talks about The Hustle as a remake, offering a different kind of conning with it being women instead of men this time around. We also learn here that it was Rebel Wilson who had pitched the idea! (1 "a" word from a scene)
Comedy Class (5:51) covers the comedy style of the film, Rebel's process, Anne and Rebel working together, and working with the film's director.
Con Artists (6:32) is dedicated to the wardrobe and sets, the clothing style, everyone working together, and the cast having fun on set. It's clear that they all had a blast making this film.
The last extra is the Feature with Commentary (1:33:32) from Director Chris Addison, which gives more of an inside look into the film while you watch it.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/17/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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