When you’re remaking something for the umpteenth time, filtering it through another layer of repetition, it’s probably not unreasonable to expect, at the very least, an attempt to switch it up. Just relying on the passage of time to act as a buffer, really isn’t enough. It gives the whole thing an air, not only of repetition, but one of idleness. And so it is with Chris Addison’s The Hustle, a remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, itself a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story. Despite the gender-bending of its lead characters, it’s a movie that hits almost all of the same narrative (although few of the comedic) beats as its two predecessors. It feels completely lacking in any freshness and seemingly staking its own success on its audiences lack of foreknowledge.
Much like its parent movies, The Hustle is a Riviera-based romp revolving around the antics of a pair of con artists. Anne Hathaway’s Josephine is an elitist middle-class trickster, but a trickster nonetheless, and one with an impeccable reputation as the best in the business. She has carved out a niche fleecing men and won the admiration of Rebel Wilson’s Penny, a small-time con woman with much to prove. With Penny beginning to muscle-in on Josephine’s turf, the two women are initially at loggerheads, unwilling to share the spoils of their trade. But, after a while the frostiness between the two women thaws and they join forces, initially targeting unpleasant, dare I say it deserving, targets, before working up to an all-time huge job to con a tech millionaire.
Based on previous experience, Rebel Wilson clearly knows her way around a joke and Anne Hathaway has some modest comic pedigree and. A small measure of credit is deserved as they both seem eminently game for a laugh here, throwing themselves into the material, pratfalls and silly accents included. Strangely though, the entire thing feels utterly lifeless and drab: a rushed-out, half finished thing that watches like a cast-off non gag reel of scenes eliminated from some other, much funnier movie. It’s never so irrepressibly dreadful that it becomes memorable, it’s just an exercise in grinding tedium.
So many scenes seem to have been deliberately excised of all attempts at humour. The dialogue hangs in the air waiting for a punchline that never comes. It’s a movie with no tricks up its sleeves. Actually, it’s a movie without even any sleeves.
You feel like you’re expected to find Hathaway’s bad English accent or Wilson’s cross-eyed blind shtick (a fairly tasteless gag that was pulled off with more aplomb in The Toxic Avenger) inherently funny in and of themselves. Like being asked to laugh at a custard pie before it has been thrown in somebody’s face.
Running through it all is a sense, in story terms, that you’ve seen it all before, and indeed, you will have if you’ve seen anything of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Bedtime Story. The Hustle is a cheap facsimile of what’s gone before it. A knock-off without the polish, invention or vim of its forebears. So, Hathaway’s effete scam artist comes off like poor man’s David Niven, while Wilson’s anarchic hustler like a much-less anarchic Steve Martin. There’s a been there, done that vibe of irrelevance that cuts through The Hustle leaving you feeling the victim of a con yourself.
Dir: Chris Addison
Scr: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, Jac Schaeffer
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Dean Norris
Prd: Roger Birnbaum, Rebel Wilson
DOP: Michael Coulter
Music: Anne Dudley
Runtime: 94 minutes
The Hustle is out in UK cinemas now.