The Hustle stars Anne Hathaway as a con artist who believes her success — a net worth of nearly $30 million — is based on her ability to capitalize on sexism.
Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) lives and works in the south of France, where she separates wealthy men from their money via one scam or another, all constructed around the same basic strategy — men are vulnerable, she says, because they will never believe a woman can be smarter.
That’s an excellent premise for a movie, but maybe not this one — a fairly close remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Michael Caine/Steve Martin comedy (that was itself based on a David Niven/Marlon Brando movie called Bedtime Story).
If you’ve seen Scoundrels, and game the whole thing out, you realize that the more faithful a remake this is, the less likely it is to affirm Chesterfield’s point of view. To say more would stray into spoiler territory, insofar as the plot of this resolutely predictable movie can be spoiled.
Like Scoundrels, Hustle pairs the posh Chesterfield off with an uncouth rival/mentor, in this case an Aussie named Penny (Rebel Wilson, who produced). She’s a grifter who runs small-time catfishing scams over the internet and when she wears out her welcome in the United States ends up in Chesterfield’s Euro neighborhood.
The latter initially sees Penny as intrusive competition but eventually recruits her as a confederate, and they run a two-woman confidence game that has Chesterfield getting engaged to rich men (Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, doing a bad Texan), then introducing Penny as her terrifyingly deranged sister, sending the suitors running, leaving the gaudy engagement ring behind.
Complications arise when they target an internet billionaire named Westerberg (Alex Sharp, apparently hired because he looks like Mark Zuckerberg). Penny falls for the guy, sundering her partnership with Josephine, and the two women commence a no-holds-barred competition for Westerberg and his dough.
You know where this goes, and though getting there is meant to be half the fun, it isn’t.
Wilson and Hathaway don’t click. The characters feel as if they were workshopped separately, and efforts to combine their comic energy on screen fall flat.
Also, a movie framed as feminist is going to have a hard time with a plot that has two women competing with each other for male attention, and the jewelry-and-shoes ethos of Josephine and Penny doesn’t help.
The Hustle. Directed by Chris Addison. With Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Dean Norris, and Ingrid Oliver. Distributed by MGM.
Parents guide: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.