I was raised to not saying anything at all if I don’t have anything nice to say. That being said, I’m obligated to write at least 300 words on The Hustle, so… Here are 600.
My grandfather used to tell me, with great conviction, that if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone or something, then don’t say anything at all. That being said, I am unfortunately obligated to write a minimum of three-hundred words on any article I write for the good people of Ready Steady Cut. Whatever you want to call Chris Addison’s The Hustle — a remake, a reimagining, a lazy retread — either way his film is unoriginal, uninspired, and unworthy of your time.
It’s my contention comedies should never be remade. In fact, Hollywood should only remake films that were critical misfires or box office failures. The Hustle is based on the Steve Martin and Michael Caine comedy classic, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a far superior farce with a script that outshines this Stanley Shapiro-penned film in almost every way. This may be actual documented proof that comedy remakes kill the comedy star (in all of us).
In this version, the gender roles are switched, as Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are now in the Michael Caine and Steve Martin roles. They play con artists, like the original, Hathaway’s Josephine plays a high-end con game, scamming rich men who always doubt a woman is smarter than they are. Rebel Wilson’s Lonnie plays a low-rent game (yet the filmmaker’s state she has $500,000 in the bank), which are scraps compared to the long-cons Josephine and her team is playing. They then team up, as Lonnie learns from Josephine, and play a con game of their own and with each other.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was, yes, a remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando vehicle Bedtime Story. They borrow the basic premise of that film and set their own tone and spirit, whereas Addison and Schaeffer practically play several scenes from The Hustle that are shot for shot, word for word, down to actual settings and backdrops (at least a half dozen scenes). This is not an homage to Frank Oz so much as it is a lazy attempt to produce a vehicle for two stars without putting any real originality or imagination into it while lacking any true conviction to put their own spin on their own film. The result is a cheap knock-off, like buying your wife a Fendi purse for her birthday then finding out it’s not spelled with a “Y”(or so I’m told)
Unfortunately, Rebel Wilson will be the fall girl here, as she takes over a role from Steve Martin who is a much more nuanced actor than she is at the moment. Yes, you get a lot of Wilson’s charming shtick, but when you combine that with scenes that play out exactly the same way (in particular, in the jailhouse, where she attempts to mimic Martin’s iconic shtick trying to remember Lawrence’s name), it becomes tedious and frankly boring. With the exception of a scene where they play shoot peasants instead of pheasants, I don’t remember finding anything close to laughing out loud.
I recently watch the all-female directed and written Wine Country, where you have a film with its flaws but that has what Hollywood needs to make more of: A female-centric story that is smart, genuine and offers something real. The Hustle (and last year’s Ocean’s 8) are attempts at female lead films with all style, no substance, and plots that are on life support. It is not a coincidence that these two films were written and directed by men. Like I said in my review of Amy Poehler’s new film, it’s not just about casting supremely talented women in studio films or in leading roles anymore; it’s about giving diversity a voice and putting these women as leads in better material.
The makers of The Hustle had me originally worried that they ruined a childhood memory of watching films with my father and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels being one of his favorites. After sleeping on it a day, I have come to realize they have only made me deepen my appreciation for it more. So, this weekend, I’m going to put my feet up, pop off the top of one my father’s favorite pints (we are a Labatt family in case you were wondering), give him a nod as he looks down at me from above, and watch Steve Martin go to the bathroom while sitting at the dinner table while wearing an eye patch. And for that Chris Addison, Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, and Stanley Shapiro, I thank you.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.