In case you weren’t aware, Rebel Wilson would like you to know that she’s fat. This isn’t an adjective that I would personally use, but this is the self-depreciative crux of Wilson’s comedy. Whether she’s telling people directly, or actually shovelling food into her mouth, I struggle to recall any of her movies without that schtick. And when that’s the foundation of one’s work, it makes for repetitive, arduous and unfunny fodder. The latest example is The Hustle co-starring Anne Hathaway, a re-imagining of the 1988 Michael Cain and Steve Martin comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which was itself a remake of the 1964 film Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando, David Niven and Shirley Jones.
Wilson plays low-level con-artist Lonnie, who captures the attention of Hathaway’s high-end con-artist Josephine. With a clash of personalities (and class) they find themselves stuck in an incessant series of hijinks that sees one mentor the other, and them eventually competing over a young entrepreneur millionaire, Thomas (Alex Sharp). It is more or less a carbon copy of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and if you’re familiar with that comedy classic then you will already know the secrets to the movie’s final act.
Using the previous film’s storyline and structure, The Hustle relies on new lowbrow sight gags to bring it up to speed. It ignores the potential for fleshing out the character dynamics and nuances in favour of prat-falls and slapstick lunacy. While Wilson is eating a lot, falling over a lot and making unwanted sexual advances a lot, Hathaway takes ownership of a hideously grading posh accent in an attempt to counterbalance Wilson’s overzealous energy. In defence of Hathaway, while her performance lacks personal investment, it is only as good as the material she’s given. Wilson’s performance, on the other hand, relies on ill-advised improvisation and the expectation of “that thing she does”. Of course it’s great to see homegrown talent make it in Hollywood, but it’s painful to see it squandered on typecast drivel like this.
If you would permit me a slight digression: Following #metoo and #timesup, one of the unfortunate consequences of the new-wave feminist movement is the recent spate of gender-reversed remakes. Movies like Ghostbusters (2016), What Men Want (2019) and Oceans 8 (2018) have attempted to level out the playing field only to ultimately give merit to their detractors, and The Hustle comes roaring in as a shining example. Remakes are rarely good in general, but when they’re driven by social politics they can just be ugly and unfortunate. Thank God for original female-driven comedies like Trainwreck, Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect (ironically, two of those star Wilson), which simply feature strong performances and good scripts without poorly rehashing material as a canvas to drive equality.
Ignoring that previous paragraph, which is obviously a personal grievance, the fact remains that The Hustle is a terrible movie. I spent most of its duration contemplating exit strategies. If it weren’t for my obligation of writing this article, I would have walked out long before the movie’s final act. My instincts tell me to give it zero stars, however I am unable to ignore the small portion of the audience who laughed at every fat joke, as well as the obligatory “vagina” joke (those are becoming too common in these types of movies). So, for those people I will grant The Hustle half a star… and for the one solitary smirk that a french-fry moment brought to my face, I will award it another half (I know, I’m a generous guy).
Dirty and rotten are two words that come to mind, and I can’t help but think that the hustle is on us. Be very careful where you direct your money, because you’re not going to get it back. But, if you’re happy to part with that hard-earned cash for 94 minutes of rubbish, then power to you. Just remember that there’s a fantastic 1988 movie starring the legendary Michael Caine, Steve Martin and Glenne Headly that’s available (at the time of writing) on two of Australia’s main streaming services, or that can simply be tracked down though other home entertainment platforms. Sometimes a night in is as good as a night out, amirite?
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★☆☆☆☆
‘The Hustle’ opens in Australia on May 9 and in the US on May 10.