“We’re the weaker sex. Men don’t live as long as women. We get more heart attacks, strokes, and prostrate trouble.” So says Steve Martin says in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. “I say, it’s time for a change. I say, let them give us money. Let’s live off them for a while.” It’s a line like this that makes Dirty Rotten Scoundrels not a bad idea for a gender-swapped remake. While a film like Ghostbusters or Ocean’s Eight weren’t centered on gender, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (itself a remake) was all about taking advantage of the opposite sex, making it a solid choice to reverse the roles and update the formula.
The Hustle, the female-starring Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, is exactly that. The Hustle doesn’t really have anything to say about gender or make any big changes that subvert expectations for anyone who saw the Steve Martin-Michael Caine-starring film from 1988. The Hustle seems almost to just swap genres, change names accordingly, and add a few improvisations and call it a day. Yet The Hustle still has its charms in this almost completely unnecessary, beat-for-beat remake.
In The Hustle, Anne Hathaway plays Josephine, a British con artist whose made millions scamming rich men in the French Riviera town of Beaumont-Sur-Mer. When another con artist, the brash Australian Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson) encroaches on her turf, Josephine decides to take Penny under her wing, teach her the ropes and send her on her way. But when Penny refuses to leave France, the two come up with a competition: whoever can con the tech millionaire Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) out of half a million dollars wins, and the loser has to leave Beaumont-Sur-Mer forever.
The Hustle doesn’t divert from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ plot in any substantial way, except to allow for Rebel Wilson’s improvisations. Tonally, these mostly don’t work within the film, and are often just variations on what Steve Martin originally did. Wilson’s character relies far too heavily on the idea that she’s a disgusting character that has to use an imaginary hot sister for her cons. But Wilson’s comedic performance is also the primary aspect that varies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and almost all of the humor of The Hustle relies on her, while Hathaway is relegated to little more than the straight woman. Considering Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a comedic two-hander, it’s a shame that The Hustle puts so much reliance on Wilson’s comedy.
First-time director Chris Addison and the film’s writers don’t quite know how to update this story succinctly. For example, a montage where Josephine trains Penny is full of elements that never seem to matter in the cons that the two pull. While Dirty Rotten Scoundrels relied on Steve Martin playing handicapped to win his competition, Rebel Wilson here pretends to be blind, which doesn’t translate as well to this story. Most of the humor focusing on this change doesn’t work, such as Penny eating a fry dipped in a toilet, or running straight into a door, which only questions why of all the things that this film does similarly to what came before it, why is this the one major change?
Yet on its own merits, The Hustle is a light, decent comedy that has enough laughs and twists for those who aren’t aware of the source material. Hathaway and Wilson have enough moments of charm and humor to make The Hustle some fun summer filler. For those who are familiar, The Hustle is little more than a rehash and a missed opportunity from a group that could’ve done so much more with this material.