Working at a New York nightclub together, a group of strippers get by until the late 2000s financial crash makes work a lot harder. Led by Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez), a veteran stripper and single mom, and Destiny (Constance Wu), who idolises Ramona and takes up stripping to support her infirm grandmother, some of them come up with a scheme that involves stealing from and hustling dozens of Wall Street bankers and wealthy men. The scam? Identify some lonely/obnoxious well-to-doers, get them drunk, drug them, bring them to a strip club and max out their credit cards. They eventually finds themselves in deep. A journalist (Julia Stiles) covering the story for a magazine interviews Destiny about her take on what happened.
‘Hustlers’ is little more than you’d expect from the outset – all skimpy outfits, heavy makeup, dim nightclub lighting, egotistical businessmen, writhing bodies, impressive pole dancing and lots of shopping. It’s all style and little substance, accentuated by the nostalgic 00s soundtrack blasting hit pop and R’N’B tracks from the era. That would all be well enough if there also wasn’t so little appeal in the cast.
Those who have seen the cast rundown might be excited to see Cardi B and Lizzo in there, essentially playing caricatures of themselves. But be warned – the musicians only feature in the movie’s first act and disappear after that. Constance Wu leads the cast and while she’s a talented actress who gave a fabulous turn in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, she can’t hold a candle to JLo whenever they share the screen – which is a lot. Lopez is a force of nature where Wu’s performance lacks warmth or charisma, and while it’s the best we’ve seen the singer-turned-actress in a long time – and by God, she looks incredible, especially during the pole dance sequences – the fact of the matter remains, she can’t really act. Elsewhere the characters played by Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart are more or less interchangeable with the ‘Riverdale’ actress’s defining characteristic being that she vomits when nervous. Then Julia Stiles seems to have been cast just so audiences can say “Oh, there’s Julia Stiles.” Thus there’s never really a feel for a personality or personalities you can root for.
Though being interpreted by some as a feminist ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ – ‘Magic Mike’ obviously comes to mind too – it lacks the cutting social commentary and appealing dark humour that ran through the Scorcese modern classic. Lines such as the one that closes the film – “this country is a nightclub with people wither tossing money or doing the dance” – are fleeting, its shrewdness placed aside in favour of indulgent shopping and gift exchanging sequences.
Hollow as it is, there is a sense of fun that can be extracted from the extravagance and drama of it all. Sadly though, nothing sticks and it’s easily forgotten soon after you see it.