Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson Swindle Men in Con Artist Comedy ‘The Hustle’
A comedy classic gets a makeover with “The Hustle,” a gender-swapped remake of the 1988 Steve Martin and Michael Caine film about two very different con artists who swindle wealthy women in the French Riviera. This updated version stays close to the formula of the original, except the fraudsters here, elegant European Josephine (Anne Hathaway) and wacky Aussie Penny (Rebel Wilson), exclusively work men, and they credit their success to the simple universal truth that no man believes that it is possible to be outsmarted by a woman.
Compared to Josephine, Penny is relatively small-time, as she is first introduced squeezing out dough from shallow American guys she meets through dating apps. Josephine, meanwhile, is stealing diamonds from wealthy European gentlemen in her homebase of Beaumont-sur-Mer, France. While Penny is forced to run from cops and hide out in alleys, Josephine has those who would put her away paid off, including police inspector Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver). Bored of the States, Penny travels to France, where she conveniently meets Josephine on the train. Sensing some competition after seeing Penny in action, Josephine goes to great length to send the other woman packing, only have her turn up at her villa. Figuring it’s better to take Penny under her wing rather than to risk having her spread hers solo, she agrees to train her, and of course there’s an ensuing sequence in which the gags revolve around Wilson’s character being out of shape.
The high point of “The Hustle” comes early on during the only time in which the ladies truly work together in a scam called “Lord of the Three Rings,” or something to that effect. This long con is gold because it involves both women using their strengths, with Josephine playing the doe-eyed damsel (“There’s nothing more compelling to a man than a vulnerable woman”) and Penny playing her deranged sister. Josephine lures in the rich dopes who propose to her, while Penny scares them away with her hilarious antics, and in their haste to get away they leave behind the obscenely pricey engagement rings. In order for the viewer not to feel bad for these men, director Chris Addison and they writers make them as repulsive as possible. Dean Norris plays one such suitor, a Texas politician who’s looking for a hot bride to introduce to his golfing buddies and stand silently by his side at public events.
While most of the men in “The Hustle” are portrayed as vile, or at the very least, shallow (Penny’s catfish scam involves her convincing guys to pay for a boob job in the hopes of sleeping with an attractive woman they have never met), Thomas (Alex Sharp), a dopey tech billionaire who bares more than a passing resemblance to Mark Zuckerberg, proves to be the exception. After Josephine cheats Penny out of her cut of the three rings profits, they once again becomes adversaries, and they make a bet regarding Thomas. While Penny masquerades as a blind woman and plays on his sympathies, Josephine uses all her wits and feminine wiles playing the exotic and intelligent German doctor who is supposedly Penny’s only hope of being cured of her “hysterical blindness.”
While it’s humorous to watch the women, Josephine especially, attempt work the first man they have come across with a pure heart, “The Hustle” loses much of it’s bite by the third act. And although it does an adequate job of exploring certain aspects of human nature, the screenplay suffers from its being too close to its predecessor, as what worked back then for Martin and Caine isn’t necessarily what’s best for Hathaway and Wilson. That’s not to say that every gender-swapped remake has to have an over-the-top message about the importance of sisterhood, but there’s no doubt that these women are stronger and funnier together rather than apart.
“The Hustle” opens May 10 nationwide.