There was online outrage with the decision to turn Ghostbusters into a female franchise. Whether it was coincidence or design, the gender reversal of old films shifted to properties with far less of a devoted fanbase. This meant less controversy over the repurposing of the material for female protagonists, but it also meant far less interest. There may have been no pushback for a gender reversal Overboard or What Women Want, but that’s probably because few people had little interest in the original narrative to begin with. I’m afraid The Hustle falls under this category, with most younger audiences unlikely to have even heard of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and fewer the one that came before. The biggest problem with the film isn’t a derivative story, however, but the way that it loses all of its bite in an effort to make sure a feminist message lasts, even when it contradicts the themes and structure of the original film.
As the title implies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is about two despicable con men who make a bet to scam an innocent woman out of her money. So when the tables are turned on them, it is poetic justice. In The Hustle, the two con men are women, so their selfish and unlawful actions are justified by the behavior of the men they steal from. Rather than allowing the dark comedy to thrive, the movie instead justifies illegal action so that we can root for the women all the way through, even tacking on a new prologue that wraps things up like only a studio film made through a collection of executive notes could. There is even a women-empowerment pop song playing over the credits, proving that in adapting this film, they completely lost sight of what the original text even was.
In this female version of the narrative, Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway) is a high class British con woman who has a polished team to help her take out high marks. Penny (Rebel Wilson) rips off guys in local bars by showing them a picture of an attractive woman meant to be her sister. Both of them make a point of stealing from men who are unsavory in their treatment/expectations of women. Penny makes a point of only stealing from the men who look disappointed that she is less attractive than her fake sister. The first time we see Josephine, she is stealing a necklace from a man who has already ‘stolen’ it from his wife. This makes them admirable even in theft, but their difference in methods leads to a rivalry between them.
The mark to settle their opposition is a naïve tech billionaire (Alex Sharp), who Penny recognizes poolside in the film’s largest, most glaring plot-hole. Knowing that he is worth a lot of money, they make a bet to see who can con him first. Using a similar con may be the main thing this film shares in common with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but the film doesn’t have the attention span or finesse required to make us care about any of the three characters. Even the act of trying to make their actions less rotten simply neuters the narrative. Each plot point feels more perfunctory than organic, and the resolution in the added prologue just feels forced in a way that managed to ruin any modicum on base enjoyment found in the first half of the film.
The Hustle isn’t terrible, but the quality of the filmmaking does not extend beyond the polished look of the cinematography and production design. If only the original screenplays were given half as much money (or were even green lit to begin with) by the major studios, we might have had a more enjoyable summer at the movies. Even Anne Hathaway doesn’t come out of this endeavor with more than a paycheck, and Rebel Wilson sticks to her only gag of self-deprecating humor in replacement of any lasting comedy or talents as an actress. In other words, wait a month and another comedy as bland as this is likely to be released purely for consumerism.
The Blu-ray release of The Hustle comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film, along with the extras on the discs. The highlight of the special features is a director’s commentary track; not because it is that spectacular, but simply due to how underwhelming the other extras are. There are handful of promotional featurettes with talking heads building the film up beyond what it can deliver on.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4.5/10
Historical Significance: 2/10
Special Features: 5/10