There is something of a knack to making a film that chooses to centre on dislikable characters, some succeed (Vice, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gone Girl) others face plant spectacularly (The Entourage Movie, Project X) and sadly The Hustle is more a case of the latter. Essentially a gender reversed remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, itself a remake of Pillow Talk, this is one con that is very much not on.
The basic principle of the film is to make a worthwhile feministic argument about certain types of men and their inherent egos and how these clued up con women can manipulate that base instinct to their advantage and initially there is an idea there. An early scene where Rebel Wilson’s Penny Rust hoodwinks a sex-obsessed man into coughing up his cash to “create” a more idealised female in his own mind really does present a truthfully twisted view of people who think with their pants over their conscience (if they even have one). Sadly, the problem is that as the film progresses Penny and her con competition in the wealthy and elegant Josephine (Anne Hathaway) are equally as hollow as those they are stitching up. They aspire to be those people essentially and any moral dimension at any point soon disappears just as quickly as it appeared, which would be fine if there was a strong message or if these were fully formed characters but they are slight and disappointing…like the film itself.
Money, power, sex, control, it is all glamourised to the maximum and not to especially funny results. The story essentially remains the same as the original, with less fun, added vagina jokes and more falling over, while the gender themes amount to nought and – unlike the infinitely superior Ocean’s 8 last year – there is not really any character here that appeals or any modern beat that lands or flourishes. The cast give it a good go to be fair, Hathaway especially (who revels in breaking out an array of accents and embraces the premium grade snobbery of the part) and some decent support is offered by Alex Sharp as a wealthy target of the ladies but the characters and laughs increasingly dry up as skits get tiresome and the slapstick here has been done infinitely better in other films where it has felt more at home. The material is just not bettered or improved in any way and surely that was the point, otherwise why bother?
The Thick of It’s Chris Addison makes his directorial debut here and it is a disappointing start for someone involved in such satirical genius in the past, as The Hustle – in spite of its lovely seaside villas well caught by cinematographer Michael Coulter – is ultimately a rather abrasive film with no follow ups on any of its perceived goals and more importantly than that very few big laughs.
In The Hustle, audiences themselves may feel as if they have been conned most of all because all we are left with after an hour and a half are a few fleeting moments of promise at points, in a film that doesn’t really have a point ultimately.