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"THE HUSTLE"
(2019) (Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Adventure: A retelling of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," only this time it's two female con artists looking to bilk rich men on the French Riviera.
PLOT:
Josephine Chesterfield (ANNE HATHAWAY) is a high-class con artist who has long specialized in bilking rich men. She has mastered multiple accents, languages, and dialects; knows fine art, wine, and culture; and has amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune all while living in a swank estate home on the French Riviera. Life is good, and she has the local police inspector, Brigitte (INGRID OLIVER), on her payroll and frequently incorporates her loyal butler, Albert (NICHOLAS WOODESON), in her machinations.

But their upscale grifting is threatened with the arrival of a crass, coarse con artist from America named Penny (REBEL WILSON). Penny has been strictly small time in the U.S., devising various Internet scams that take unsuspecting men for a few hundred dollars at a time. She yearns for a big score, but Josephine is afraid her boorish ways will "scare away the game."

A rivalry develops and ultimately the two man-hating women make a bet involving a twenty-something tech billionaire named Thomas Westerburg (ALEX SHARP). The first one to relieve Thomas of $500,000 gets to stay in the seaside Mediterranean town that's home to playboys and moguls alike. Penny poses as a blind woman in need of a legendary doctor's expensive treatment for her condition. Josephine heads her off by posing as the doctor, whose fee is $500,000 to treat "poor Penny."

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
My 14-year-old daughter is quite the singer. She takes part in her middle-school chorus and performs in local talent shows. Recently, she wowed one audience with her rendition of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" that she sang while playing the ukulele. She's quite the Beatles fans, but she was worried that others her age wouldn't know the song. I told her before her performance, "Educate 'em! They'll know it after YOU sing it!"

What made the performance special was that Maddie made the tune her own. Yes, it was a female singing a song made famous by a male voice. But she gave it more of a coffeehouse, open-mike-night vibe. It was able to stand on its own like the late Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole was able to make "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" his own.

Those who made the new comedy "The Hustle" could not pull off the same magic with their remake of 1988's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," which itself was a terrific remake of 1964's "Bedtime Story." The creativity began and ended with the Powers That Be saying "Hey, let's recast the two traditional male leads as females!" Otherwise, director Chris Addison and screenwriter Jac Schaeffer have made a beat-for-beat, almost scene-for-scene remake of "Scoundrels." I was shocked and appalled.

Yes, partly, it's because "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is one of my favorite comedies of all time. It's one of those rare flicks I can revisit every year or two and still laugh hard at the antics of Michael Caine and Steve Martin. But with "The Hustle," there wasn't even an attempt to spin the material in a new and interesting direction, to take full advantage of the gender swap, to come up with ANY new bits. It is at least 90 percent rehash and riffs, folks! It even has the same setting the French Riviera. I wasn't a fan of the all-female "Ocean's 8." But at least the filmmakers were smart enough on that flick to move the action out of Las Vegas and to New York City. Here, it looks almost like they used some of the same locations.

But the cinematic grifting doesn't stop there. The film has the same exact structure and set-up of dueling con artists in seaside Europe -- one cultured and high-class, the other uncultured and high-crass -- trying to bilk unsuspecting wealthy people (in this case, men) out of millions. It has Rebel Wilson in the Steve Martin part faking hysterical blindness instead of paralysis. It has her rival, Anne Hathaway in the Michael Caine part, masquerading as the German doctor torturing Wilson's Penny in an effort to expose her ruse to a man (Alex Sharp, looking like a slightly better-looking McLovin') they are mutually trying to dupe. The bouncy music is similar. The fact that Hathaway's Josephine has the local police inspector on her payroll AND an acerbic butler who despises Wilson's uncouth Penny is the same.

Oh, and -- SPOILER ALERT, although I don't care -- it has the EXACT SAME PLOT TWIST!!! And when I mean the exact same twist, I'm talking even the way it's revealed AND the closing scene where -- well, if you've seen "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," you know. But if you haven't, I actually won't spoil THAT movie!

How will it play with people who have never seen either "Bedtime Story" (which featured Marlon Brando and David Niven) or "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?" Well, that's the sad part. Some people -- especially Millennials and Generation Zers -- ARE going to see this movie first and may even judge it their favorite just because it was the first time experiencing this EXACT SAME STORY. I mean, even the all-female "Ghostbusters" didn't make the lead ladies clones of Venkman, Ray, Egon, and Winston. There was a respect for the source material there, and the courage to make the funniest character in the film a male (Chris Hemsworth's idiotic secretary).

There's no courage here, and the only respect paid is giving the original screenwriters of "Bedtime Story" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" actual screen credit for the story and script, meaning their estates will at least get some money out of this I hope. How little attention is paid to detail here? At one point, a character says (and pardon my language) "G*d damn it!" in German. And the subtitles spell the exclamation as "G*ddam it!" Ugh. I didn't just hate "The Hustle." I despised it. It stole 90-plus minutes of my life. It rates as a 1 out of 10 (T. Durgin)




Reviewed May 10, 2017 / Posted May 12, 2017


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