You’ll get me to go see pretty much any movie about con artists. Even a mediocre one. And with The Hustle, welp… that’s exactly what I got.
Please note: When I say “mediocre,” I am not saying The Hustle is bad, because it’s not. But I also can’t say it’s very good, because it’s not.
The Hustle is a remake of the 1964 comedy Bedtime Story, which also served as the basis for the delightful Steve Martin/Michael Caine film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
In this one, Rebel Wilson plays a crass, small-time, reasonably successful grifter who ends up in the south of France looking for marks. But she’s stumbled on the territory of Anne Hathaway, a very successful con artist who isn’t so happy to have someone else moving in on the steady stream of absurdly rich men coming through her town. Eventually, the two make a bet that whichever of them can swindle an agreed-upon target out of $500,000 gets to stay and feast on the rich men, while the other has to leave forever.
It’s a fantastic story, and would be pretty hard to screw up, and so, really, The Hustle is pleasant enough. The problem, though, lies in the comedy.
The Hustle plays for broad laughs — it’s brash and slapsticky and loud. And if that’s your thing, that’s fine; the audience I was with ate it up. But this is a movie about con artists, for goodness’ sake. The humor should be subtle and sharp and subvert our expectations. I’m not even saying it has to be highbrow — heck, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has a urination joke that hits perfectly because it undercuts our presumptions. But The Hustle wants to tell the obvious jokes, and it’s not nearly as satisfying as it should be.
Still, Wilson and Hathaway are clearly having a ball, which makes misfires like this go down easier. And, if they make a sequel, I’ll go see it, because con artists are almost always fun — at least at the movies.