Director: Chris Addison
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Nicholas Woodeson, Casper Christensen, Hannah Waddingham, Rebekah Staton, Jocelyn Jee Esien
Written by: Jac Schaeffer, (also story) Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning and Dale Lauder
Running Time: 94 mins
Release date: 10th May 2019
There are three types of remakes: there’s the modern update, which takes a well-worn story, like A Star Is Born, and brings it right up to date with modern trappings. There’s the reboot, where a film gets a new interpretation, like Hellboy, mainly because the original director/star has gone onto other ventures and the studio want to reinvent the series for a new generation. Finally, there’s the out and out remake, which takes a popular film from the past and literally remakes it with different actors, maybe approaching the movie from a different angle. The Hustle is just such a remake. Taking Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as its source material (which was a remake of a 1964 comedy starring Marlon Brando and David Niven called Bedtime Story), it twists the tale of conmen and turns them into con women. Sounds intriguing? It should have been. Except it is terrible.
Penny is a small-time con artist who heads for the South of France. On the journey there, she meets Josephine, a successful hustler who lives a lavish lifestyle and makes a fortune swindling rich men. Penny wants some of the action and goes to Josephine’s home, wanting to learn more about the con. However, there can only be one hustler working The French Riviera, and so a challenge is set: to con a tech genius out of £500, 000. The one who wins stays, the other goes.
If you are a fan of the Michael Caine/Steve Martin comedy, you will go in already knowing the story. A powerful, high-class confidence trickster who can win thousands from unsuspecting rich women, has to face up to a loud and obnoxious American grifter who goes for small change but wants the big con. While the 1988 film was never a comedy masterpiece, it had its moments of the bizarre and surreal and the two leads were charming enough to keep the interest. This is not the case with this new version, which sticks almost like glue to the highs and lows of the Caine/Martin film, tweaking them for modern audiences. Yet every joke falls flat on its face.
This is surprising as its the feature directorial debut of comedian Chris Addison, he of The Thick of It and Mock The Week fame. The former stand-up should know a thing about timing and delivering a joke, yet none it seems to be on show here. Gags are signposted miles before the punchline arrives, most are given with a mix of arrogance and boredom, and while it may be funny to watch the straight actor play opposite a clown, which was part of why Dirty Rotten Scoundrels worked, it just fails to even raise a smile here.
As you watch the moments so familiar in the 80’s comedy, for example, Martin’s Ruprecht creation, the alleged less smart brother of Caine’s wealthy businessman, admittedly a very un-pc sequence, you see the new equivalent, and the jokes just don’t work anymore. The worst part about this shambolic photocopy is that you would imagine that replacing the leads with females, it would be another step forward in the equality of women world that Hollywood is so desperate to push. This feels like a huge step backwards, with characters using their sex as a weapon.
The chemistry between the leads falls short of working either. Anne Hathaway, a fine actress as we know, is served very severely by a limp script, a wardrobe where she has to wear extremely tight fitting dresses and, in one very awkward sequence, seduce a man who can only be described as a child. Rebel Wilson has managed to build her career around being Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect, and every other part she has played since is a variation of that character with a different name. The joke wore thin after the first Pitch Perfect movie, it’s becoming increasingly annoying now. Finally, there’s Alex Sharp as the whiz-kid tech geek the women are out to con. He’s stepping into the shoes of the late Glenne Headly. He looks about five years old, and his comedy timing is awful.
In short, The Hustle is a disaster zone. After last week’s Long Shot, which was consistently funny, this barely raised a chuckle. If you are going to remake a comedy like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, you have to be original, inventive and sharp. This is none of that and to call it a comedy, the only people being conned are the audience who pay to see this tripe. Utter rubbish.