A high class female con artist (Anne Hathaway) becomes irritated when another, small time con artist (Rebel Wilson) steps in on her turf. For a time, the women work together as partners but as competition sets in, the camaraderie dissolves. Eventually the two enter a wager to see who can scam a young tech billionaire (Alex Sharp) for a million dollars.
As a remake of the Michael Caine and Steve Martin-starring ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ (which is itself a remake of ‘Bedtime Story’ from the ‘60s), ‘The Hustle’ stays loyal to the story of the source. There are some nice tributes to its predecessors, for example, in the animated opening credits which recall ‘The Pink Panther’ (also harking back to the 60s) and at one point, in one of Hathaway’s character’s many impersonations, she puts on a Cockney accent a la Caine. At the same time, ‘The Hustle’ is very much its own thing and effectively places the classic tale in a contemporary context.
‘The Hustle’ is fun for a movie night out with the girls. The costume design and lavishly decorated French locations are delicious while its story of two women taking down the dirty, rotten men who wronged them is clearly geared for a female audience. There’s something devilishly fun in the idea of using the way that men look down on and feel sorry for women, underestimate them and feel the need to rescue women, back against them. In the opening scene, a great laugh is had when Wilson’s character swindles a guy for money for her friend’s ‘boob job’. It’s also entertaining to see how low each will go in pursuit of the con, as they prove they can be just as dirty and rotten as the men they’re scamming.
When Wilson has some great moments, Hathaway runs rings around her, and it’s clear why she gets top billing. Hathaway’s range for comedy expands far beyond playing the same character again and again as Rebel unfortunately does. It’s easy to forget that Hathaway’s roots are in comedy anyway, between great films like ‘The Princess Diaries’ and ‘ The Devil Wears Prada’, and impressive performances in mediocre movies like ‘Bride Wars’ and, most recently, ‘Ocean’s 8’. As well as making us bawl our eyes out in such films as ‘Les Mis’, Hathaway possesses great, natural comedic talent and is entertaining whether going crazy or delivering subtle, biting remarks. Her character’s butler is another one to watch for laughs though the policewoman who is also a member of her con team (and is perhaps her girlfriend? Though this is never teased out) is forgettable.
Generally, ‘The Hustle’ is good craic but it still doesn’t have you quite convinced that female-centered remakes are a good idea. It’s certainly one of the better of the cycle that we’ve seen but fresh, new stories with a female lead would be the preference.