Hollywood is no stranger to comedies about con artists, as seen in the likes of Ralph Levy’s Bedtime Story (1964) starring Marlon Brando and David Niven as well as its popular 1988 remake of Frank Oz’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels featuring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. Having only seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the setup for two opposing con artists trying to outsmart each other particularly works very well, thanks to the impressive odd-couple pairing of Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
In The Hustle, which tries to be different by swapping genders, Anne Hathaway basically plays the Michael Caine part while Rebel Wilson takes on the Steve Martin role. Just like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this 2019 remake basically retains more or less the same, even right down to its twist ending.
But here’s a brief synopsis of the movie anyway: Anne Hathaway plays Josephine Chesterfield, a British-accented con artist who has been making a fortune conning rich men in Beaumont-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. Then along came a low-rent con artist in the form of Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson), which proves not only a nuisance but poses a threat to her. Soon, they forge a bet to see which is the first person to successfully con the app tycoon (Alex Sharp), where the loser will have to pack her bag and leave Beaumont-sur-Mer once and for all.
Similar to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the success of The Hustle is heavily dependable on the two lead actresses played by Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. Both of them are quite funny together as two mismatched con artists, namely the amusing scene involving Anne Hathaway’s Josephine trying to test Rebel Wilson’s Penny’s “blindness” using various experiments. But such scenes are few and far between, with sight gags and humorous banters mostly a hit-and-miss affair.
Whereas Anne Hathaway acquits herself well enough sporting posh British accent and looking at ease playing a comedic role, Rebel Wilson’s inconsistent acting performance is mostly annoying or trying too hard to be funny.
Chris Addison’s overall direction, marking his feature-length debut following his TV stints such as Veep and Fresh Off the Boat, is largely pedestrian. Other than the gender-swapping move, he made little attempt to inject a new life to the plot that has already been told before. Basically, if you are a big fan of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, you might as well repeat watching that movie instead. The Hustle is more of a forgettable Hollywood comedy that relies heavily on the by-the-book formula to get things done.