James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James C. Clay // Film Critic
Going into THE HUSTLE, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, I had no idea it was a remake. But I was open to the idea of this film. It’s always fun to have the characters of a film two steps ahead of its audience. The idea of putting these two stars together had promise on the surface to supply good cheap fun.
The film, directed by Chris Addison, is quite literally the opposite of fun. It’s a bore of the highest order. Not that this film ever promised to be a three-course meal with Filet Mignon. Films like this have the potential to be, at the very least, an order of meatloaf, but this caper amounts to being a lukewarm bowl of porridge with no salt, and you’re forced to eat it with a fork instead of a spoon. It’s embarrassing, like falling on your face at the Met Gala embarrassing.
THE HUSTLE follows two con artists: Penny Rust (Wilson), a low rent grifter just looking for a quick Venmo scam, and the other is Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway), who is in the upper echelon of using and abusing. They come together in a mentor-mentee type of situation and continue to work small cons in the process before making a bet that will pit their skills against each other.
Both actors are, of course, talented, but it’s a bummer that their talents are being wasted in this. Wilson is coming off a career-best role in ISN’T IT ROMANTIC, but she backpedals into a lazy slapstick effort. She’s falling over and making herself the foil to Hathaway’s elegant cosmopolitan persona. If we are to come any further with film representation, we aren’t going to get anywhere with films that have actors like Wilson looking ridiculous on screen and Hathaway looking down upon Wilson’s less-refined character traits.
While studio comedies are in transition in the post-Apatow boom of the last 15 years, THE HUSTLE may be one of the quietest audience-going experiences that has graced the genre in quite some time. This is a film with no identity, no grace and walks around aimlessly for 90 minutes. As the film limps along, we get a love triangle between Penny and Josephine, who are attempting to use each others’ tricks to lure half a million bucks from Thomas Westerberg (Alex Sharp). He’s a dorky app developer who has apparently never interacted with a person of the opposite sex. There must be thematic territory to mine from these gender dynamics, yet the only thing the film is interested in is Hathaway’s British accent and Wilson falling down over.
*Spoilers Ahead* Once the film is wrapping up, there’s a song by Meghan Trainor that plays, called “Badass Woman,” but that’s undercut completely because it turns out that Thomas was conning the two women all along. He runs off with $1 million in cash and jewels and the film is now turned into a problematic piece of filmmaking without any intrigue whatsoever. It’s hard to fathom what the writers were thinking having a man win out over the two women protagonists of the film. And in the final minutes, we see that Penny and Josephine need Thomas to continue working grifts across the globe.
Let’s hope THE HUSTLE doesn’t kill the chances of seeing more sleuths on screen. Last year showcased two excellent capers (like AMERICAN ANIMALS and WIDOWS), but nobody saw those, and I suspect the same fate for the film we are discussing here. It appears the only heist to penetrate the American consciousness was the “time heist” from AVENGERS: ENDGAME.
In hopes of saying something nice about THE HUSTLE, it’s hard to forget the bouncy Parisian score by Anne Dudley that echos through the film. It has a classy elegance that puts you right in the mood. However, the images captured in the frame fail to deliver anything that remotely symbolizes escapism.
THE HUSTLE is now playing in theaters nationwide.