Friday 24 May 2019

Movie Review: The Hustle (2019)

A con artist comedy, The Hustle offers satisfying dynamics between its two main characters and a few solid laughs.

Australian Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson) is a small time hustler, trapping men into giving her small amounts of money. When the law catches up she flees to Europe and makes her way to the French Riviera. But this is the turf of Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway), a well-established and sophisticated con artist who preys on rich vacationing men and dupes them out of expensive jewelry.

Josephine tries all she can to get rid of Penny, to no avail. Eventually the two women agree on a wager: whoever can first swindle $500,000 out of tech wiz kid Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) wins, and the loser has to leave town. Both Josephine and Penny deploy all their dirty tricks to come out ahead.

A straightforward remake of 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the genders reversed, The Hustle does not try anything too new. This is essentially the same story with Hathaway and Wilson in the Michael Caine and Steve Martin roles respectively, and the real surprise is why four screenwriters are credited for what is a basic rinse and repeat adaptation.

The supporting cast is relatively weak, most of the plot points are rushed, and the movie's final third noticeably runs out of steam. But what director Chris Addison has going for him are two leading ladies in sparkling form, and what The Hustle lacks in originality it makes up for in edginess between the two women.

Rebel Wilson brings to Penny Rust a foul-mouthed street smart determination to climb the con artist ladder. Her brand of frumpy, coarse but courageous physical humour finds many of the intended fish-out-of-water targets, and in response Anne Hathaway's Josephine deploys icy steeliness cloaked in velvet to protect her turf. The two women bounce off each other to good comic effect in a sharp demonstration of opposites repelling.

The idyllic settings in the South of France are suitably postcard-worthy, the seaside playground for the rich and famous converted to a target-rich field of operations for Penny and Josephine to square off. The Hustle doesn't pack anything new in its travel bags, but nevertheless finds some fun on the glistening beach.

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