In this gender-swapped remake of Frank Oz’ buddy-con comedy, Dirty Little Scoundrels (which was also a remake of the older version, Bedtime Stories), two women are competing yet also teaming up to deceit older men into actually grant them what they desire. With Anne Hathaway partnered up with Rebel Wilson, the movie has the potential to, at least, remind us why this remake, especially the gender-swap element, is necessary. And yet, the whole scheme is simply insensitive and problematic, even when the movie manages to have its fun moments.
Josephine (Hathaway) and Penny (Wilson) are two con-artists of completely different scopes, different M.Os, and different characteristics. Josephine works with bigger fishes usually for bigger size of gold-digging business; she will roam from casinos to the rich men’s lair only to act foolish before trapping the men into giving up their belongings. Meanwhile, Penny is more of a speakeasy-level grifter who will cheat on some pity men with a series of lies involving human-trafficking issue. Both con artists encounter each other on a train to a seaside French Riviera town, where they meet a young tech billionaire who will change their competition once and forever.
At the surface, what The Hustle offers is a straightforward dumb comedy, forcing us to believe that the characters are committing clever yet ridiculous acts of con. Wilson’s quips and energetic performance sometimes blend well with the movie’s intention. She’s even gone further making some fun chemistry with Hathaway in the latter’s utterly comical performance. Both actresses produce an enticing dynamic duo, which should’ve worked a little better if the whole movie is less problematic.
The basic rule of a good con movie has always been the same: keep the con believably and structurally plausible—whether it is for serious purpose or comedic purpose. To counterbalance the clever con setup, clever comedic sketches are usually devised with witty banters and, in some case, on-point one-liners. While funny and deceitful, The Hustle fails miserably in presenting clever con schemes and, at the same time, providing witty comedy to complement it. The cons deal mostly with exploitation of miseries and vulnerabilities, with Hathaway’s Josephine delivering a Razzie-worthy acting that surprisingly succeeds in deluding the overly foolish men and Wilson on the loose making anything slapstick. Given how the movie is intended to be, it’s difficult to understand why they would remake a time-bound con movie with female leads. The reason is simply nonsensical.
It’s pretty ambitious indeed; however, there’s nothing convincing about the movie—not the story, not the cons, not the motifs—but Hathaway and Wilson’s electric chemistry. The Hustle might look ridiculous at the surface, given the lead performance; but, the whole story somehow loses the message for its aimless ambition. It only works if you’re looking for a dumb, summer escapism.