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A worn-out storyline and taxing performances make ‘The Hustle’ exhausting

 By Zach Goings

May 14, 2019

After stealing the show in 2011’s Bridesmaids, Rebel Wilson seemed poised to break out as one of comedy’s next leading ladies. But it turned out the once hilarious bit was the only thing in Wilson’s repertoire, as she proceeded to bring the same worn-out shtick to every role she could get her hands on– and The Hustle is no exception.

In this painfully unfunny remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a remake in itself, Wilson teams up with Anne Hathaway to try and flip the script. The glamorous and conniving Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway) lives lavishly in the south of France, swindling wealthy men out of their valuables and bank accounts, until a carefree and reckless wannabe hustler, Penny Rust (Wilson), crashes her carefully curated operation. Until now, Josephine had a monopoly on scamming the unsuspecting billionaire targets in her seaside paradise, but to eliminate her newfound competition in Penny, Josephine decides to take her in and make Penny her apprentice. But the two have a falling out, and they go from allies to enemies, deciding to settle their feud in one final hustle. Whoever can swindle $500,000 from tech billionaire Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) by the end of the week wins; the loser leaves town for good.

Rebel Wilson as Penny Rust and Anne Hathaway as Josephine Chesterfield. Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

The Hustle is nothing new, and it doesn’t help that all of its jokes are worn out in the film’s first twenty minutes, if not the trailer. The difference in appearance between Hathaway and Wilson can only be used as a punchline so many times, but it’s clear the film’s screenwriters missed the memo. When jokes aren’t being cracked at Wilson’s real-life expense, the discrepancy between the two hustler’s social status and Penny’s fish-out-of-water experience is the only other place they turn to for humor. Wilson’s self-deprecating humor is the most prevalent element in any of her performances, but it’d be refreshing to see her finally grow out of this phase.

The film’s comedy isn’t its only recycled element. Its played out storyline features rivaling scammers wronging an innocent victim, only for one of them to predictably fall for him and have second thoughts. What began as a somewhat empowering story of two women striking back at the patriarchy for constantly wronging women is quickly reduced to a retrograde narrative pitting the two against each other over said men. On top of that, (SPOILER ALERT) the film’s final twist reveals that instead, Josephine and Penny are actually the ones being hustled the entire time– and by a man, no less. It turns out Thomas isn’t as innocent as he looked, and Josephine and Penny end up going to work for him. 

Rebel Wilson as Penny Rust and Anne Hathaway as Josephine Chesterfield. Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

While Wilson is certainly the film’s weak link, it’s never a good sign when even Hathaway’s undeniable charm isn’t enough to redeem it at least a little bit. Instead, her entire performance can be summarized by the same adjectives used to describe Josephine’s English accent: forced, ridiculous, and unnecessary The two appear to be competing instead of enhancing each others performances. 

The film’s real MVP is its beautiful setting, the scenic coastline of Beaulieu-sur-Mer serving as the fictional Beaumont-sur-Mer in the French Riviera. The setting allows for some truly stunning wide views and panning shots, but beyond that, the camerawork is fairly conventional, much like the rest of the film. The score, by Anne Dudley, provides some swanky, French-inspired piano tunes, but nothing memorable; and the combination with modern pop songs results in a series of confusing sounds.

Anne Hathaway as Josephine Chesterfield and Rebel Wilson as Penny Rust. Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Picture

The film’s gender-swapped premise– something increasingly popular in Hollywood’s quest for equality– was the only thing The Hustle had going for it, until ultimately the film backtracks on that, too.

Rarely does a 93-minute comedy feel so exhausting, but The Hustle’s combination of a worn-out storyline and taxing performances manage to make this film a drag.

Star Rating: 1 out of 5

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