Ever seen a movie that you feel you’ve watched a million times before? I’m not talking about your favourite films, here – I’m talking about unoriginality. In a day and age where cinematic creativity has never been so broad (even with so many different sequels and reboots still rolling out), it’s stunning to see that recycled ideas are still trying desperately to claw in some box office cash.
Comedies, unfortunately, are more likely to fall prey to this than others, unless they of course offer something a little bit different. What Men Want from earlier this year offered a genuinely nice perspective on the film What Women Want, mainly because gender politics is something that’s deep to tap into. Gender-flipping movies isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s done with genuine passion. Ocean’s Eight was a great example of how to do it right. Ghostbusters 2016, not so much.
The Hustle (MGM)
And now – at last – I get onto The Hustle. Surprisingly not as mean-spirited as I assumed it would be, this clear remake of the Steve Martin / Michael Caine vehicle Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which was already a remake in itself) focuses on two female con artists who find themselves vying to trick the same billionaire. Rebel Wilson plays the rough-and-ready trickster while Anne Hathaway plays alongside her as a more sophisticated (and more successful) con artist extraordinaire.
Impressed by Hathaway, Wilson requests to become her protégé, only to end up facing off against her teacher to try and squeeze a certain amount of money out of an app-developer (Sharp) who is reportedly very wealthy indeed. If you are already fairly savvy when it comes to this genre of movie, you already know how this one is going to turn out.
I don’t like giving out less than two stars if I can help it. The Hustle has had a colossal critical drubbing lately and while I feel in one way it deserves it, in another, I have certainly seen worse. If you asked me whether I would want to watch this or, say, Fist Fight on repeat, I’d be clamouring for Hustle.
So, let’s look at the positives. Wilson and Hathaway, while pretty divisive at times, have brilliant comic timing. Both suit these roles perfectly, with Hathaway being particularly versatile – though it’s a matter of the material they are given that lets them down here. The movie, too, for all its foibles, does move along at a pleasant pace. It doesn’t stick around for too long, nor does it rush about too much. It would’ve been nice for there to be a little more character development, but hey, it’s a run-of-the-mill Hollywood comedy (surprisingly, I learned, directed by the hugely talented and hilarious Chris Addison, a staple of British stand-up who many will have seen in political farce The Thick of It).
The Hustle - Official Trailer (MGM)
But the main problems facing The Hustle are, of course, its unoriginality. It is completely and utterly banal from a point of view of story, of jokes, of twists, and sadly, of premise. Even the title – ‘The Hustle’ – is one which will likely give way to swathes of people asking ‘which one was that again?’ in months and years time (if at all). It is the sort of comedy which may have made a splash 10 or 15 years ago, but in 2019, just rather dawdles along. This isn’t a movie that was ever going to challenge the box office, nor will it challenge the home release market.
Yes, a few jokes land, and yes, the two main performers work well in their roles. But it’s inescapably middling. There’s just not really all that much you can say about it. The trailers make it look like it’s going to be an outrageous gross-out comedy, but there are only really two or three moments that stand out. Even then, movies going back 20 years have done all this, and better. It’s a sad state of affairs when I have to say that some of the American Pie films have the edge over a comedy movie in 2019.
The twist in the tale is eye-rollingly predictable. Of course, if you’ve seen this sort of movie before, you know what’s coming. There’s even a romantic subplot involved in here somewhere which feels like it was slapped in during the edit. The way it pays off, too, with a badly-delivered line and a badly-delivered joke, nail the coffin lid down.
The Hustle, sadly, wasn’t ever going to be anything ground-breaking. A little more originality, and a script with a little bit more of an edge could have nudged things up to 3 stars. However, I’ve seriously fought the temptation to fill this review with further ramblings about how appalling Hellboy is – there is that little I have to say about The Hustle. Wilson and Hathaway work well together, and are great at what they do – but this is forgettable and derivative to a whole new standard.