Based on the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Hustle is a gender-bent remake. Admittedly, I’ve never seen the original film, but it’s safe to say that the update doesn’t change much and does maintain the exact same plot. The Hustle doesn’t engage in much beyond its somewhat silly and ridiculous plot, but, paired with its great cast, its silliness manages to work in its favor. It’s not often we get a comedy centering two women and there’s certainly a lot to like about the film, even while admitting that the film doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.
The film begins with Penny (Rebel Wilson), a low-end con artist, using her… uh, talents, to scam a man into giving her $500 for her fake sister’s breast implants. It’s easy to sense that Penny revels in the game, but it’s in this one scene that explains her reasons for finally going through with the scam (something she confirms later on). Meanwhile, Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway) is also a con artist, but differs greatly in personality from Penny. For one, she’s very high class, posh and exceptionally detailed in her scams. She has a home base and hired help, while Penny has neither and instead travels to hot spots to pull off her cons. After the pair crosses paths, Penny asks Josephine to train her, but their partnership doesn’t last long before they decide to make a bet on who can con tech millionaire Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) out of his money first.
There are several moments that earned genuine laughs and despite the thin plot, The Hustle is very watchable so long as you’re not looking for something deeper. The characters are fun, but besides their love for the con, there’s not much else we learn about their lives. Everything is overshadowed by glitz, glamour, and spectacle, though that’s a lot of what makes the film enjoyable. Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway are both great and they really make their strange partnership-turned-rivalry work, especially given how much their personalities differ. Their scenes together are some of the highlights of the film and, though they often clash, it’s never forced for laughs.
Hathaway’s dramatics, in particular, are spectacularly lavish, as is her wardrobe. She walks the walk and talks the talk, understands her skill set and is confident in her experience and abilities to pull off any scam. There’s a distinct air of chicness that surrounds her whenever she moves and wherever she goes. It’s a reminder that she’s a fantastic actress. She even plays up her English and German accents without being excessive, though Wilson’s Penny does comment on Hathaway’s accent doing its best Julie Andrews impression (a nice shout-out to The Princess Diaries). Meanwhile, Wilson has a tendency to ramble in scenes and she does the same here, but it’s more controlled and it helps to elevate her character. She’s witty and isn’t deterred by Josephine’s demeanor, intent on outsmarting her at every turn. Their comedic timing and ability to play well off of each other is fully on display here.
The film marches at a good pace and thankfully never lingers on anything for too long for fear of it becoming tedious and frustrating. What comedies sometimes lack, however, is an emotional core and that’s definitely missing from The Hustle. It’s entertaining, but it does make empty platitudes regarding women and the way men underestimate us. It’s left to one minor conversation without further exploration, which makes the film’s eventual twist ring a bit false. Still, the expectation that comedies would explore something so layered is always low for studio films and in The Hustle’s case, it doesn’t affect much of anything.
The primary disappointment is the fact that The Hustle seems to be a remake that plays by the book instead of carving out its own thing. The plot matches Dirty Rotten Scoundrels exactly and, though I’m not against gender-bending any film, the hope is always that the source material is improved upon or, at the very least, can be better attributed to the current time period. Otherwise, it’s just more of the same. Still, even though The Hustle may not be memorable long term and should be discussed within the scope of modern remakes, the film is elevated by its leads, the razzle dazzle of it all, and its surprising charm.