The Hustle- Featured Image

Anne Hathaway just finished reminding us how funny she can be in last year’s OCEAN’S 8. Rebel Wilson, on the other hand, showed us in ISN’T IT ROMANTIC she has deeper talents than some of her shallow roles had let her show. Putting them both together in THE HUSTLE, a loose remake of the excellent DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, seems like the perfect recipe for delights!

Wellllll… not so fast.

THE HUSTLE- Josephine 1
Anne Hathaway loves the gift so much she can’t stop smiling in THE HUSTLE. (Courtesy of United Artists)

The Idea Behind THE HUSTLE

Josephine (Anne Hathaway) presents as an urbane con artist so set-up that her net worth is in the eight figures. She “hunts” practically in her own backyard but has paid off enough people that none say boo to potential victims. Penny (Rebel Wilson) “only” has a $500,000 bankroll and her cons feel far less sophisticated to Josephine. However, when Penny ends up in Josephine’s literal backyard, the two strike a tenuous alliance.

Before too long, however, the partnership breaks down and they make a bet to see who has to leave the French vacation paradise. Whoever gets app creator and apparent tech billionaire Thomas (Alex Sharp) to pay them $500,000 first is the victor.

This being a heist movie, however, there may be some twists in store. Very disappointing twists.

The Hustle- When Penny Met Josephine
Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway exchange pleasantries in a scene from THE HUSTLE. (Courtesy of United Artists)

Writing THE HUSTLE

THE HUSTLE, apparently, sticks so close to DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS that the three original screenwriters — two of whom are dead — get credits here, as well. Typically, in scenarios like these, they would be credited as the writers of the adapted material, so the fact that they aren’t speaks to the similarity. Only Jac Schaeffer is 100% new to the project and, as she is the only still working screenwriter of the bunch, likely responsible for the updates and gender-related swaps and tweaks.

I mention all of this because DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is a wonderful movie and I love the script. And yet, THE HUSTLE is decidedly not.

The movie feels too short and also a bit too long. It ends just as you think, “Oh, ok, now we are going to really work this idea.” Instead, it rolls credits. In fact, that happens throughout. Every time the film offers up a status quo that a viewer might think, “Cool, the plot is here,” it ends in the most unsatisfying of ways. Imagine it like being at a restaurant where the waiter explains the menu in endless, intensive detail and then when it is time to eat, you are pushed out the door, the first bite still being chewed.

The Hustle- Thomas and Penny
Alex Sharp and Rebel Wilson wander a hotel in a scene from THE HUSTLE. (Courtesy of United Artist)

Casting the Actors

The fault does not seem to lie with either star. Hathaway puts on both a ridiculously posh British accent and the hammiest Teutonic accent this side of Campbell Scott in ROYAL PAINS. (If you don’t get that reference, get thee to where characters are still welcome). Like in OCEAN’S 8, she is clearly having fun taking one aspect of her reputation — in this case, hyper-perfectionism — and blowing it up to about 30 on a 10-point scale.

Wilson continues to feel a bit like Melissa McCarthy on me. Like McCarthy, Wilson so often seems to go for roles that portray her as gross, mostly due to her weight. And like McCarthy, it feels less like Hollywood lookism — at least not entirely — and more like a kind of character and comedy she generally likes.

As far as that goes in THE HUSTLE, she gets more nuance here than, say, BRIDESMAIDS, which uses her very well, or PITCH PERFECT 3, which uses her quite poorly. On the other hand, she gets very little of the well-rounded characterization that she had in ISN’T IT ROMANTIC.

Wilson does get one moment that I really noticed. She talks about when she was first trying to become a con artist and seeing men’s faces fall when they saw her after expecting someone more stereotypically thin and beautiful. She is actually acting for perhaps the only time in the movie and it is just outright good.

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson give great face. (Courtesy of United Artists)

Directing THE HUSTLE

Chris Addison makes his feature directing debut with THE HUSTLE. For such a small sample size, I cannot tell you if Addison has a future in directing. I can, however, say that HUSTLE largely lacks visual flair.

Many of the comedic beats do not work, at least in part, because of how Addison frames a scene. For instance, during a dance club scene, we are being led to believe Hathaway is dancing in outrageous ways with Thomas. However, the frame itself cuts off what we see very awkwardly. On one hand, not enough is hidden to make the viewer imagine a wild, over-the-top bit of business. On the other, what we do see looks benign and empty as opposed to outrageous. This is not the only time we get a scene that manages to both fail as an imagination catalyst and as showing funny action.

This also happens in terms of how scenes are edited. Again, in the above-mentioned dancing scene, the cuts away and back to the action undermine the momentum. We “miss” moments that seem to be building towards funny. At others, the shot lingers too long, undermining a scene that could earn a chuckle but instead lingers and becomes inert.

As a result, you can feel the director pulling for moments but never reaching them.

That’s a Wrap

THE HUSTLE is so disappointing. It lets down its two obviously game stars by stranding then in static scenes. Hathaway and Wilson try hard but neither gets to show off like they truly can. Each time the movie feels like it is gaining momentum, it changes the goal, the set piece, the players. As a result, it undercuts most, if not all, of the potential fun and funny. Wilson is good, Hathaway is good, but the movie, nonetheless, is not.

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