By Kim Hughes
Not especially entertaining or even appealingly bad, The Hustle is best characterized by all the things it could have been but isn’t: farcical, slapstick, kinetic, winking, propelled by outsize performances or riotously — even slyly — funny.
Ostensibly a female-focused reimagining of 1988's weirdly fabulous Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin and Michael Caine, The Hustle drops an irritable and rigid Anne Hathaway and a loose-limbed Rebel Wilson in the South of France, then stands back waiting for the magic to happen as the two cons compete mercilessly with each other while chasing a grand-slam score. It doesn’t.
Hathaway, mimicking the Caine part, is an expertly groomed, class-act grifter separating lascivious wealthy men from their fortunes by dialing up every stereotype in the dumb-chick toolbox. Her lavish lifestyle and cadre of co-conspirators attract Wilson, channeling Martin as a con functioning on a much lower theft tier. Think free sandwiches.
It should go without saying that a female con artist putting one over on rich guys with her vengeful wit would be infinitely more intriguing, not to mention contemporary, than a hot babe giggling over, then pocketing, diamonds.
Eventually, the pair conspire to swindle a wide-eyed American tech millionaire while one-upping each other. Increasingly outrageous roles are played by Hathaway’s Josephine and Wilson’s Penny (Ruprecht is also reimagined), though no one in their rarified orbit seems to notice. When the reality of the tech millionaire’s fortune comes to light, Josephine and Penny change the wager but raise the stakes emotionally. It’s hard to care.
Hathaway seems positively bored with the shenanigans and Wilson, physical as usual in her performance, never locates the humanity of Martin’s Freddy Benson, which, contrasted against Caine’s foppish maneuvering, made the exercise seem worthwhile and the ending a joy to behold.