Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
In 1964, David Niven and Marlon Brando starred in a comedy called Bedtime Story, about a rich, sophisticated con artist who takes on a rough-around-the-edges grifter as his protégé. Twenty-four years later, the movie was remade as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the lead roles. Now, thirty-one years after the release of that movie, the clever plot is being recycled once again with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson taking on the lead roles. The Hustle certainly brings some fresh jokes into the fray, but does not do enough story-wise to separate itself from its predecessors.
Wilson plays Penny, a small time hustler, catfishing men for a few bucks and narrowly avoiding the law when she stumbles upon a magazine advertisement for a small, waterfront village in France where the rich supposedly go to play. She decides to up her game and head there, but on the way, she comes across Hathaway’s Josephine: a sophisticated veteran of the confidence game who tries to shoo her prospective competition away. But Penny is persistent, and when she shows up at Josephine’s seaside villa asking to be her protégé, Josephine reluctantly accepts.
Together, they are able to pull off the legendary “Lord of the Rings” con, luring rich men in hopes of marrying Josephine and then scaring them away by introducing her less refined sister, who would come with the bride as part of the package deal. But once this job is done and the two disagree about how the proceeds should be divvied up, they make a bet targeting a young tech billionaire. First one to secure $500,000 from him wins and gets to stay, while the loser has to leave France. The con is on.
The Hustle does not reinvent the wheel of the story, hitting pretty much all the same plot points as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (and likely Bedtime Story, too, though I must admit that I haven’t seen that version). The problem that this causes is that for anyone who has seen the earlier movie, none of this film’s plot twists are going to come as a surprise. In some genres, that is not as big of a problem, but when it comes to a film about swindlers pulling cons, the twists of the plot are crucial factors towards the movie’s ultimate success as an entertainment.
Even if you know where the story is going at every turn, though, you can still find some joy in the humor brought to the movie by two talented comediennes. Hathaway really plays into the snooty, high-above-them-all persona that has been unfairly attached to her and it is always entertaining to watch movie stars poke fun at their own image. Two of the funniest moments in the movies come courtesy of her perfect reaction to the actions of Penny, one of which I’m convinced was a genuine response of shock and fear.
Meanwhile, Rebel Wilson steals nearly every scene she is in, largely thanks to her talent for physical comedy. It is not just her talent for comedy that works in this movie, though, and before you know it, she has gotten her hooks into you and you feel a genuine emotional connection with her when she starts to believe that another character sees her for who she truly is.
There were multiple moments throughout The Hustle in which I burst out laughing and even though I was pretty sure I knew where the plot was going (I did), there were still times when I thought it might choose to go a different way (it didn’t). And as the plot turned down the street I was sure it was eventually going to take, I found it to be a rather odd choice for a gender swap remake, because the ultimate conclusion of the story actually makes it feel slightly less feminist with women in the leads than it did with men.
It would have been nice if The Hustle could have branched down a few different paths than its predecessors to keep from feeling stale to those who already know where the plot is going, but the movie does pack enough genuine laughs to make it worth a look.
The Hustle opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.