“THE HUSTLE” — 2 stars — Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Tim Blake Nelson; PG-13 (crude sexual content and language); in general release; running time: 94 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.
If you haven’t seen the 1988 comedy, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Chris Addison’s “The Hustle” will be a serviceable comic vehicle for a pair of talented actresses. If you have seen “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” then “The Hustle” is yet another example of why Hollywood has completely run out of original ideas.
“The Hustle” is, in fact, a remake of Frank Oz’s film about a pair of con men working their nefarious magic on the wealthy, innocent female victims of the French Riviera. For the new film, the male parts have been swapped out for female characters, and … well, that’s about all that’s changed.
Rebel Wilson plays Penny, a cheap huckster who mainly uses an online dating bait-and-switch to swindle sexist jerks out of a few hundred dollars a shot. Anne Hathaway plays Josephine, a considerably more successful and sophisticated con artist who takes aim at the bigger fish.
Unfortunately, Penny swims into Josephine’s pond — a swank Riviera community named Beaumont-sur-Mer — and starts to make a mess of things, and the battle is on. Will Josephine rid herself of the pesky hack and get back to her routine? Or will Penny wear out the more highly strung Josephine and stake her claim as the new con queen of the French Riviera?
Well, if you’ve seen “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” you know exactly what will happen, because “The Hustle” is a beat-for-beat remake, albeit with less chemistry and a lot more PG-13 pushing vulgarity and sexual humor. Not only have Wilson and Hathaway stepped into the Steve Martin and Michael Caine roles, respectively, but the script takes them on pretty much the exact same journey, right down to Wilson delivering her own take on Martin’s goofy Ruprecht character.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a remake, and other similar films have had fun in recent years by flipping the gender of their casts. But where the “Ghostbusters” reboot and “Ocean’s 8” (which also starred Hathaway) made an effort to stake out their own ground, “The Hustle” just feels lazy and lacks the swanky charm of the original. The new movie does feel especially geared toward condemning male sexism, but even in that it seems to have forgotten that its source material was already about a pair of sexists who get their comeuppance.
In a situation like this, you’d think the filmmakers would save a special twist for the end, to distinguish their film from the predecessor. If you’ll think that here, I'm sorry to say you will be disappointed.Comment on this story
Luckily for Addison, Wilson and Hathaway give strong enough performances, even if many audience members will be making mental comparisons to Martin and Caine. Frankly, the actresses (and the audience) deserve better, such as February’s clever “Isn’t it Romantic,” which saw Wilson poking fun at the romantic comedy genre.
For many audiences, “The Hustle” will deliver some laughs, and that will be enough. It’s too bad, though. “The Hustle” has its moments, but in the end, the real joke is on us.
Rating explained: “The Hustle” draws a PG-13 rating from persistent vulgarity, sexual humor and profanity (including a single use of the F-word), as well as some comic violence.