The Hustle (2019) Review
A BLAND, UNORIGINAL, AND
FLAT OUT BORING CON ARTIST CAPPER
Within the recent decade or so, Hollywood has continued to its fixation of sequels, prequels, and reboots within a variety of motion picture projects across the various movie genres. The results have different opinions of these new iterations, with some offering up a fun / genius continuation of its source material and others being deplorable / half-baked rehashes of sorts. Thus, as to be expected, the movies that center around the narratives of con artists isn’t necessarily original, but has been adapted into a wide range of genres, with story (though familiar from one another) offers up a unique cast and a fun set-up / premise in the way a person (or group) pull off a con / heist operation. As expected, Hollywood has produced a plethora of these con artist cappers, with some being recognizable such as American Hustle, 21, Focus, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can, and several others. Now, MGM Pictures and director Chris Addison presents the latest con-artist endeavor with the release of The Hustle. Does the film find its strength with “con” premise or is it just another “run of the mill” capper that doesn’t work?
Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson) is a small-time con artist; stripping desperate and pathetic men of their money, but decides for a “change of scenery” and heads off to France, hoping to make something of herself with the lonely rich men of the French Rivera. There, Penny encounters Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway), a sophisticated con artist swindler of the area, amassing a lavishing style and fortune with her perfected method routine of faux seduction / attraction. Sensing a potential rival and hinderance in her con business, Josephine tries to dismiss Penny, only to find the young woman’s neediness, with the new arrival hoping to learn a thing or two from the prolithic con queen. In an attempt to get rid of her, Josephine and Penny soon set their sights on a young yet dopey tech millionaire Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp), with the two crooks trying to compete for his affection and falling for their respective con tricks and charms and score the young mogul’s fortune.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I said above, there have been a multitude of remakes and spin-off endeavors from Hollywood; finding some to be good and others bad. That being said, I do love a good con artist feature. Yes, the story can be a bit familiar (i.e pulling off a “job” by ways and means of deception and lies), but it’s kind of fun to see the process of it all and is usually accompany by some good character performance from the acting talents on these various endeavors. Plus, the variety of genres that these con artist film derive from is also quite interesting to see, with some of personal favorite including the mind-bending blockbuster Inception, the Oscar nominee crime drama American Hustle, the biographical crime capper of Catch Me If You Can, or the widely fun star-studded ensemble heist of Ocean’s Eleven.
This brings me back to talking about The Hustle, a 2019 movie and the latest con artist endeavor from Hollywood. I vaguely remember hearing about this movie when I occasionally visited my favorite movie websites for the latest info on upcoming films. I remember hearing that actresses Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson were gonna be starring in a movie together (in the two lead roles) and was gonna be a remake of the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, which itself was a remake of the 1964 film Bedtime Story. So, with Hollywood’s reoccurring fascination of revisiting (and repurposing) old films, I wasn’t exactly surprised by the creation of this movie. I do remember seeing the film’s movie trailer a few times at my local theater (and a few TV spots here and there), but I wasn’t really interested in seeing this movie when it was initially released May 2019; choosing to see other feature films that looked more interesting to watch / review. Still, I was a bit curious to see how this movie ultimately shaped up to be as well if all the bad reviews / opinions of it were true. Thus, I decided to rent The Hustle a few months after its home release….to see if the general consensus of this remake of a remake were right. And were they? To be quite honest…. they were. Despite a few background nuances in its presentations and cheeky performance from Hathaway, The Hustle is utterly boring, shapelessly redundant, and uninspiring lackluster from start to finish. There’s something about this project that could’ve potential worked, but it incredibly weighed down utter blandness.
The Hustle is directed by Chris Addison, whose previous works includes acting roles in projects like Skins and Trying Again as well as directing such TV episodes from shows Veep and Breeders. Thus, Addison makes his directorial feature length movie debut with The Hustle, which is probably why the movie doesn’t work at much as it supposed to, but more on that below. As a first-time motion picture endeavor, Addison stages events in a straightforward manner; making the film easy to follow for any moviegoer to understand as well as making the film lighthearted within its breezy runtime, which is one hour and thirty-three minutes (93 minutes). In addition, Addison certainly makes the movie a modern-day capper; playing up modern jokes and gags throughout (more on that below) as well as the commonplace tropes of the con artist variety, including a European setting for much of the feature’s story.
Speaking of which, the presentation of The Hustle is a standout more so than the actual story being told. What do I mean? As mentioned, the film’s setting is reminiscent of Euro-luxury lifestyle, with backdrop off the French Rivera utilizes throughout much of the feature, which curtails all the glitz and glamour of area. Thus, the various “behind the scenes” members, including Alice Normington (production designs), Sophie Phillips (set decorations), and Emma Fryer (costume designs) for their efforts in making the film’s setting come alive and certainly “pop” …more so than the actually movie’s story does. Plus, the film’s score, which was composed by Anne Dudley, is pretty good; having a certain “French” jazz musiak flavoring throughout many scenes in the movie, which adds to the French Rivera backdrop setting.
Unfortunately, majority of The Hustle fails to impress on so many levels; failing to deliver on a exciting comedy remake. Perhaps the most apparent one that many will agree with is the actual movie being created. Looking past a lot of the film’s fault, the one that stand out is the reason why this movie is being actually remade again…. for a third time! Yes, Hollywood has been fixated with the garden variety of remakes, but some creative ingenuity is needed to make this newer project stand on its own merit; be it narrative storytelling or in the character / performance that populate the tale. With the exception of the gender swap of his lead characters, the Hustle doesn’t really do much with its narrative in a unique way; creating a pretty humdrum “run-of-the-mill” remakes that can’t stand on its own merits. So… why even revisit the property? Of course, this also brings up the point of Addison’s direction with the feature and how he really doesn’t do much with the film. Given his background, he finds difficulty in trying to formulate the particulars of the film. It’s quite clear as to what he wants to convey on-screen (two female con artist that get caught up in a silly farce of a competition), but the execution of it all is horribly bland. Literally….not much happens in the movie as The Hustle could’ve been told in a thirty-minute presentation. In better hands, The Hustle could’ve been better (not perfect, but more mediocre-ish), but Addison lacks the finesse in helming this project; making the project feel more like a long lost pilot episode of TV sitcom than an actual feature film.
Coinciding with that, the movie itself is utterly boring with not much going on. The story’s premise is good and ripe for the picking for 2019 raunchy comedy endeavor, but Addison as well as the film’s script writers (Stanley Shaprio, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, and Jac Schaeffer) does little to interject entertainment and narrative nuances within the film’s story; resulting in a rather dull and uninspiring feature that can’t quite decide what it wants to be. In truth, the movie is quite shallow, with plenty of scenes and scenarios playing out in a predictable and formulaic way, but in a terribly vanilla way. Plenty of moments in the movie have been done better in various other endeavors (be movies or TV shows) and comes across in a half-bake manner. Even the movie’s twist at the end is rather “meh” as it’s quite clear (and visible earlier on) that this was gonna happen; rending the actual “surprise” of it happening muted. Nothing about the movie really stands out and amounts very little, playing the rivalry of Josephine and Penny in a cartoon-ish way that doesn’t quite stick its landing.
Speaking of “stick a landing”, the various comedic bits in The Hustle don’t and are really DOA (dead on arrival). In the comedy arena, The Hustle fails to make a splash; relying heavily on some tiresome gags, tropes, and shticks that feel dated, dry, and utterly dull. I rarely laughed while watching the film and found most of the “punch line” material to be rather “ugh”, forced, unfunny. Plus, even the story’s humorous concept fails to deliver; rendering much of what’s been told in a weird way that doesn’t quite work within its shallow attempts. It’s really hard to say how this movie got greenlit as the potential for a comedy remake is there, but just buried underneath a lousy direction, a messy execution, and weak narrative.
The cast in The Hustle fares no different; struggling to make the various characters compelling or even memorable in their scenes throughout. Most are proven talents (most are recognizable from their past projects on either big or small screen), but the character roles in the film are very flat and uninspiring. This is most apparent with the film’s two main lead characters of Josephine Chesterfield and Penny Rust, with actresses Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in these respective roles. Of the two, Hathaway, known for her roles in The Devil Wears Prada, Les Miserable, and The Dark Knight Rises, plays the role better and certainly knows how create the persona for Josephine, a woman of exquisite taste and a talent of seducing men. To be honest, Hathaway is perhaps the best thing about the movie (and that’s not saying much about The Hustle), with actress projecting Josephine with enough cheeky and European classy pompousness to make the character amusing and fun. Plus, Hathaway nails all the various accents she provides throughout all her made-up “con” characters that she plays. Still, there isn’t much to her character beyond that, which stifles the character, which is basically a bit “over-the-top” already in a comical way. In the end, the character of Josephine isn’t exactly the best of Hathaway’s body work, it’s quite clear she’s having fun doing this character in The Hustle.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the character of Penny Rust, the loud, obnoxiously rotund, and small-time con artist that wants to Josephine’s protégé. Played by Wilson, known for her roles in the Pitch Perfect trilogy, How to be Single, and Isn’t it Romantic, the character is totally bland and unappealing. Of course, it’s a character that Wilson has done in the past, so technically it should’ve worked, but (at the same time) it’s just a tiresome comedic shtick that Wilson has been typed cast for many times prior. Thus, this makes Wilson’s iteration of Penny quite similar to past character she’s played, but with very small tweaks here and there. Still, that means that there’s nothing original or creatively fun with Wilson’s portrayal of Penny beyond the rotund / dumb fat chick that has a crass mouth. Even the film’s script for Penny lacks originality and innovation, with the character being reduced to a walking / talking fat girl joke for most of the feature. She certainly “fits the bill” for Wilson to play, but it just woefully terrible character that doesn’t rise above the same old routine that doesn’t work. Likewise, the character of Thomas Westerburg, who is played by actor Alex Sharp (To the Bone and Better Start Running) is just presented in such a clichéd way that he becomes a parody of his own; playing the dopey but young tech billionaire that’s caught between Josephine and Penny’s attempts of seduction. Sharp just simply doesn’t know what the character wants to be and ends up just going with the routine “goofy young guy” that doesn’t amount to anything. Plus, Sharp lack finesse his acting handling of the character and end up being the worst of the main three.
The rest of the cast, including actress Ingrid Oliver (Doctor Who and The Wrong Door) as Josephine’s associate Brigitte Desjardins, actor Nicholas Woodeson (The Avengers and Rome) as Josephine’s other associate / Butler Albert, actor Dean Norris (Breaking Bad and The Book of Henry) as Howard Bacon, actor Timothy Simons (Draft Day and Veep) as Jeremy, and actress Emma Davies (Midsomer Murders and Enigma) as Cathy, are in either supporting roles or minor supporting roles. There acting is fine (most of them are character acting talents), but most of their involvement in the feature is minimal; ranging from one scene to a handful. I kind of expected this as The Hustle primarily focuses on Wilson, Hathaway, and Sharp. Still, most of these players are wasted on a project like this; offering up characters that are generic flat…. even as supporting ones.
It’s con vs. con and the affection for one man will decide who is the better in the movie The Hustle. Director Chris Addison’s directorial debut endeavor takes the classic con artist narratives from both Dirty Rotten Scoundrel (and its predecessor Bedtime Story) and reimagining it for a modern audience; updating the story with a female twist thrown into the mix of seduction and con artists. Unfortunately, despite an attempt to create a story with its premise / initial set-up and Hathaway’s cheeky performance, majority of the film just falls utterly flat from its vanilla and thin narrative, a weak direction from Addison, predictable twists and progression, humdrum comedy jokes and gags, uninspiring caricature characters, formulaic tropes and shticks of acting talents, and just really being a boring movie. Personally, this movie was pretty “bleh” from start to finish. The premise seemed fun and could’ve worked, but the entire endeavor is presented in half-bake way that doesn’t work…at all; generating a messy product that I personally felt was quite a bore. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is definite “skip it” as there’s really no point in seeing this movie (even if you’re a fan of Hathaway / Wilson). Better yet…just simply watch either Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Bedtime Story. In the end, while Hollywood will continue to craft features films of con artists, The Hustle stands as a cautionary film of ways not to approach remake endeavor by shaping an older property into something that is bland, unoriginal, and flat out lackluster boring comedy motion picture.
2.0 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: May 10th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 30th, 2019
The Hustle is 93 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and language