Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star in this remake of the Michael Caine and Steve Martin comedy classic, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Set in modern day, the elegant con artist Josephine Chesterfield (played by Hathaway) takes the sloppy but clever scammer Penny (Wilson) under her wing and teaches her how to sharpen her craft. They team up to cheat a wealthy young wunderkind (Alex Sharp) out of his millions. During the elaborate confidence game, Josephine and Penny turn against one another while vying for the money and affection of their mark, who doesn’t seem to mind that both women are battling for his attention and come across as absolutely crazy.
It seemed like an idea that couldn’t miss. Maybe that’s why this went so wrong – was everyone on board positive that, since the screenplay is almost exactly like the original, the new version was going to work no matter what? If you’re a fan of the Caine/Martin version from 1988, then watching The Hustle is a strange experience. Despite a few updates to the material, it’s a scene-for-scene redo. Yet, the laughs don’t land, the new additions are desperate, the pacing is inconsistent, and the efforts of the performers are amateurish.
Hathaway tries out a series of accents and all of them are unconvincing and corny. It’s a real problem, as her character is supposedly a master con artist but, even when we hear Josephine’s actual speaking voice, it sounds like Hathaway is doing a high school skit of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft. As for Wilson, she stole a few scenes in Bridesmaids and has been making a career of stupid fat jokes ever since. Nothing here is any different from the slapstick-heavy, face-stuffing antics that Wilson has done before. She needs to move beyond the indignity of playing “Fat Amy” three times in her career and find a role that isn’t degrading. Wilson has exactly one scene here where she gets to act: Penny reveals why she loves to steal from her victims, who always look down on her when she enters a room. The monologue has real bite and Wilson is touching, but the moment quickly passes by.
The Hustle is much less an improvement to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels than it is another Hot Pursuit, the early-summer flop from a few years back starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara. Both are cheerful, unfunny, and depressingly lazy. The irredeemable moment here is a toilet gag (invented entirely for this movie) that would have been too much for Van Wilder. Hathaway and Wilson seem to like one another but there’s no real build with their character’s relationship, making their final moments confusing and ill-considered.
While Frank Oz’s direction of the original wasn’t especially stylish, he crafted a witty, often hysterical, farce by focusing on performance and getting wonderful work from Caine, Martin, and the late Glenne Headly. In this, Chris Addison, a director of episodic TV making his film debut, doesn’t seem to be in sync with the material: The timing is off, the performances are all over the place, and the whole thing is so over-lit, it looks rather ghastly.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a beloved classic and making a female-led remake, particularly when your leads are an Oscar-winner and a professional scene stealer. That said, between the infamous 2016 Ghostbusters, last year’s Overboard, and this, it seems the gender reversal redo fad may need to be reconsidered, at least before we get the rumored Splash re-think with Channing Tatum as the mermaid (I’m not kidding). Dirty Rotten Scoundrals can and should have worked with women in the lead roles but, as hard as they try, Hathaway and Wilson don’t give performances to be proud of. This is a lame and embarrassing film.
There is one thing about The Hustle that truly impressed me: It’s so much worse than Serenity, the agonizing camp classic from January that starred Hathaway and Matthew McConuaghey. I didn’t think that was possible.
Rated PG-13/93 Min.
Image courtesy IMDB