By: Felix Felicis (Two Beers) –
I’m gonna be “here for all the right reasons” honest with you guys right now, I wasn’t (initially) super thrilled when The Hustle (a gender-swapped Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake which is, in and of itself, a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story) came on the radar. Could we just *not* anymore with the lazy cinematic Botox botch-jobs that are most gender-swapped reboots? I thought. And, more than likely, unpopular opinion here, I didn’t *love* the all-female (Melissa McCarthy led) Ghostbusters. It wasn’t bad. It just… wasn’t great. And I will defend women leading both in front of, and behind, the camera in cinema to the last breathe in my body *cough* look out for my upcoming review of Booksmart *cough* but 2016’s Ghostbusters wasn’t less-than inspiring because the lead roles were filled with uteruses instead of duderuses. Ghostbusters (2016) was (narratively) superfluous at best, didn’t add anything new to the intellectual property and, at worst, cheapened the (1986) original. The truth lies somewhere in the middle (and far, far away from in the incel-tastic trolls who implode by the thousands anytime women vote, wear pants, or battle supernormal entities).
After that came last year’s Ocean’s Eight which was borderline offensive with it’s aggressive mediocrity and queerbaitish subplots (not to mention made my Worst Of 2018 list for its crimes against women). The night is indeed darkest before the eventual dawn. Then I saw a trailer for The Hustle and felt the strangest thing. I think it was cautious optimism? It’s been so long I’m not entirely sure. The world may never know. But I told you that to tell you this. The Hustle lives up to the spirit of 1988’s original Scoundrels (and I will knock your goddamn teeth out if you refer to this movie as a “spiritual sequel” – I curse M. Night Shyamalan to the fiery pits of hell for coining that phrase – among other reasons) in addition to adding an engaging, modern feel to the age-old con-(wo)men-with-tarnished-hearts-of-gold sub-genre of comedy.
The Hustle is a near-identical scene-for-scene Scoundrels remake with a generationally modernized, pop-culture facelift (and I’m actually not mad at it). Does it reinvent the wheel? No. Does The Hustle blast through the stratosphere of preconceived expectations knocking prejudiced detractors out of the way much like a grenade tossed into a Chuck’E’Cheese ballpit would make it rain hollow, multicolored spheres like dolla bills at an airport strip club? (I in no way actually endorse tossing a grenade into anything, much less a children’s ball pit, I mean, can you IMAGINE how much microscopic fecal matter you’re condemning poor, minimum-wage, teenagers to clean off the ceiling?)
Anne Hathaway’s ‘Josephine Chesterfield’ embodies the quintessentially aristocratic con artist (Michael Caine’s 1988 role) who, operating as a savvy, well-oiled (solo) con machine, runs into a (literally) trashy, painfully unsophisticated “threat” to her turf, Rebel Wilson’s ‘Penny Rust’ on a European train (eye-rollingly idiotic name aside, a smarter-than-she-looks resourceful survivor who, much like a weighted-clown-bobble-bop, pops back into the game every time you try and knock her out).
Unsuccessful at tricking Penny into leaving for trailer park(ier) waters, Josephine is blackmailed by a *shiny Penny” into taking her on as a protégé (think unpaid intern of crime). After a moderate success working together to fleece (truly idiotic) obscenely rich men out of their money, jewelry, and other assorted worldly goods, Penny demands an equal share for her efforts from an incredulous(ly dismissive) Josephine and a winner-takes-all bet is born between the two duplicitous titans for the profitable turf they’ve been operating on. Hijinks, capers, and, dare I say it? (I do) shenanigans ensue.
You can match your wits against anyone, but finding a friend (hell at this point I’d take a coworker who’s light on eye contact and heavy on the casual half-nod as their majority method of interoffice communication) you don’t want to drop kick out of a moving Uber on more than one occasion is infinitely harder. Watching Hathaway and Wilson take this rebooted comedy classic and infuse it with genuine warmth, humor, and style is worth the price of admission any day of the week. Leap years too. Find that special deodorant enthusiast in your life and LOCK THAT SHIT DOWN, KIDLETS. If my thirties have taught me anything, it’s that on the sliding scale of relationships one has in their life (platonic to playing Twister naked), deodorant is the *only* non-negotiable.
Unexpected first kudos to Albert the Butler (Nicholas Woodeson) who was CRIMINALLY (GET IT BECAUSE HE AIDED AND ABETTED CON ARTISTS YOU’RE WELCOME FOR THAT) underrated in this flick but makes the most of his *priceless* facial expressions and single(ish?) line of dialogue. This could’ve been a throwaway role but Woodeson was a “pitch-perfect” addition to The Hustle (GET IT BECAUSE – okay I know you already got that one and if you didn’t, please exit this review Stage Left) as his long-suffering Butler Charisma (oh yeah that’s a real thing, you take a quick look at Alfred and tell me you’d kick that outta bed) holds up to the prolonged exposure to both Hathaway and Wilson’s characters and still comes away as someone you’d probably think twice about being a little nicer to before getting super-glued to a wall.
Also, WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN HIDING ALEX SHARP (Thomas Westerburg, the bone – pun very much intended – of betting contention between Penny and Josephine)? He’s a relative newcomer to the silverscreen (making a film/acting debut in 2017’s Netflix Original – and not at all sexual-pun-adjacent-joke-material – To The Bone) but is FUH-REAKING. A. DORBS. I cannot. Even. With him. Sharp exudes genuine charm and goes toe-to-toe with Hathaway and Wilson; he’s selling guy-next-door-makes-good and I AM BUYING LIKE HE’S A GIRL SCOUT TRYING TO MEET END-OF-SEASON-SALES-QUOTA (I’ll take thirty-five boxes of those chocolate/peanut butter things and anything Alex Sharp is offering on screen). Matching the dual Comedy Queen Charisma flying as *Vin Diesel as it was in this film with his own cutting-edge (GET IT BECAUSE HIS LAST NAME IS SHARP NO I’M NOT SORRY GET OFF ME THIS IS MY REVIEW NO SECURITY CANNOT “SHOW ME OUT”) brand of Big Scoundrel Energy, Sharp is a big reason why this baller reboot tricycle-built-for-three (largely) WORKS.
And of course, all due praise (obviously) to Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson for giving me all the Death Becomes Her meets Odd Couple Energy I could ever want from this smash (and grab) hit Comic-Con (at this point just assume the pun is intended). And, because I honestly can’t decide whether or not the “idiot sibling” plot point goes too far into Tropic Thunder “full retard” territory (holy shit was that maybe one of the worst premises ever committed to film), or if it’s a superbly executed element lifted directly from the OG Scoundrels, it gets sent to the Medium Place (added to both the Toast as well as Beer Two and then sent to live out its days with nothing but Cannonball Run 2 and Mindy St. Clair for company). In its favor, Wilson and Hathaway CHEW through the “sibling” movie montage with wild abandon, making it hard not to laugh at their genius delivery and compelling chemistry.
The charisma and comedic chops of The Hustle’s leading ladies plus a razor-Sharp (can’t stop won’t stop) assist from my new fave con-women tech target extraordinaire makes the fact that this film struggled a bit fitting Hathaway and Wilson into an off-the-rack, pre-made vintage skort when they were born to be(spoke) Dior almost a forgettable offense.
The Hustle certainly doesn’t fail to entertain here, but it *does* flail around almost as much as a wet cat struggling to escape the iron vise-grip that is the hug of a small child might (also not unlike what I look like anytime you try and get me to talk about feelings/attempt to hug me without warning – or at all) in attempting to fold its cast into an existing, and fairly straight-forward, framework rather than shape the frame around them.
Almost as awkwardly as television’s David and Moira Rose (of the Schitt’s Creek Roses) try and “fold” in the cheese while making enchiladas.
This is the risk any remake runs; balancing staying true to its original source material (Scoundrels via Bedtime Story) while adding a fresh-take facelift for current audiences. The Hustle does a decent job with both elements but it’s carried by the cast and not in any way, shape, or form on its own narrative merits (and loses some depth and dimensionality along the way because of it). Aside from an update to the material to account for contemporary times, The Hustle doesn’t stray too far from the rivers and lakes that it’s used to.
This is the part where we circle back around to perhaps The Hustle‘s most fatal flaw, couched in comedy (and wrapped in satire) is the prevailing notion that inflating stereotypes regarding real-life social concerns to wildly unrealistic proportions makes it okay to (on any level) demonize, mock, or otherwise ridicule those with legitimate mental health issues. It’s an insidious trope (one among many) that Hollywood needs to let fall by the wayside.
The road to hell (and big budget blockbusters) may be paved with good intentions, but it’s a small step from accepting an inflated stereotype of an unbalanced psyche as okay to laugh at (as a part of mainstream entertainment) to allowing the slow erosion of our reservoirs filled with empathy for those dealing with any number of real-world mental health concerns – if we accept the permission such films give us to laugh at satirized versions of them. What’s complicated here is that The Hustle threads a bond of sisterly love and dedication through its Lord of the Rings, “mentally imbalanced”, sister-act con (which is admirable… ish) to balance out the slapstick shenanigans Hathaway and Wilson resort to in order to swindle disingenuous men out of big-time bling. One right does not absolution for another wrong make.
RELEASE THE PEASANTS!
Do you mean Pheasants? Why does your sister have a shotgun?
Hahaha… no. Don’t worry, she’s a terrible shot.
The Hustle/Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remade in the image of Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson is peak criminals-with-(tarnished)-hearts-of-gold genre fare. I’d be even *more* excited for an original sequel…
Last Call: Stick around for a post-credits treat if you can’t get enough of that lean, mean, Hathaway/Wilson comedy machine (showcased in a cutting-room-floor scene).
The Hustle (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every successful ruse/each mark fleeced (not including the Montage of Con – see below for that rule).
Take a Sip: for each “Lord” these ladies con out of a “Ring” in the Montage of Con.
Take a Drink: anytime Josephine and Penny trade the lead (or seem to) in their long con.
Take a Drink: for each insane “treatment” the terrifying “German doctor” comes up with.
Shotgun Your Beer: if you correctly predicted who gets the last laugh and wins the big bet. Do a Shot: if you didn’t.