“The Hustle” (Rated T)
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver
What you don’t know won’t hurt you!
And if you didn’t know the new comedy “The Hustle” is a remake of 1988’s hilarious Steve Martin/Michael Caine farce “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” – which itself was a remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven comedy “Bedtime Story” – then you more than likely will emerge from viewing this Anne Hathaway/Rebel Wilson flick unscathed.
In fact, to truly enjoy “The Hustle”, it would be best to not know just how much it is principally a wholesale remake of those two films; having women in the lead roles is pretty much the only differentiator.
It’s the latest in Hollywood’s growing trend of remaking movies and replacing male characters with women. From 2016’s “Ghostbusters” to last year’s “Ocean’s 8” (the remake of the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven” remake of 1960’s “Ocean’s 11”), to the consistent, persistent and infuriating rumors that an all-female “Lord of the Flies” is in the works, this seems to be all the rage at the moment.
In this case, American actress Hathaway takes on the role played by British actors Niven and Caine. Australian Wilson steps into the Brando and Martin role. Even though the two previous films didn’t have the same title, the characters’ names were largely the same, with only a few minor and subtle differences. For “The Hustle”, however, quite a few of the names have been changed.
Hathaway’s Josephine Chesterfield is a glamorous, seductive British woman who has a penchant for defrauding gullible men out of their money. Into her well-ordered, meticulous world comes Penny Rust, a cunning and fun-loving Australian woman who lives to swindle unsuspecting marks. Despite their different methods, the two grifters soon join forces for the ultimate score – a young and naive tech billionaire in the South of France.
One key difference: while Brando and Martin’s Freddy Benson pretends to be paralyzed as part of the con, Wilson’s Penny is faking blindness.
On its own, “The Hustle” is actually reasonably entertaining, with some genuinely funny moments. Yes, it’s far-fetched and full of conveniences and contrivances. But that’s to be expected in this farcical comedy.
Its strengths lie in Hathaway and Wilson. This is probably Wilson’s strongest performance to date, having been elevated to lead status just this year with “Isn’t It Romantic”, and no longer relegated to the wacky friend or sidekick.
Hathaway, though, really shines, and uses the film to showcase her impressive range. Through a parade of accents and personalities, the Oscar-winning actress reminds anyone who may have forgot – or chooses not to acknowledge – that she can easily navigate through and thrive with broad comedy, slapstick or serious drama. She lights up the screen, wafting through her scenes with a fancy wardrobe and an Audrey Hepburn-like presence.
But the lack of originality or major distinguishing features with the two previous films presents the biggest challenge for “The Hustle”. Other than providing a vehicle for two actresses, there is no other raison d’etre for this production. And while initially there is a suggestion this may head down a women’s empowerment path, that’s quickly abandoned, as it becomes a carbon copy of the earlier movies.
As we face another long summer of remakes and sequels, this begs several questions: Is this all the film industry will continue to serve up over the next few years?
Are they just remaking for the sake of remaking, with no intention of advancing or enhancing the story? Will the dearth of original screenplays continue, with only a handful of new material crammed into a couple weeks before the end of the year for Oscar consideration?
And what’s next for the ongoing “The Hustle”/”Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”/”Bedtime Story” remake train? The animated version? The musical? The all-black cast? The Asian version? The all-women version of the musical? The animated musical with pets?
Where and when will it all end?
Knowing that regurgitation is all that’s in store for us is the most hurtful thing of all.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @morningblend969.