This one made me a little depressed, and it did so because it made me realize that one of the more reliable actors working today (and a personal favorite) is not good at something in the acting realm. I always look forward to watching Anne Hathaway in just about anything because she’s a genuine talent, but after seeing her in Ocean’s 8 and her latest, The Hustle, I’ve come to the startling conclusion that she’s not funny, at least not when she’s trying to be. I’ve actually found her quite amusing over the years but in roles where she’s played knowing, witty characters. But when she’s saddled with “being funny” or delivering funny lines, it just doesn’t work.
A fairly faithful remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which was, in fact, a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story), The Hustle requires Hathaway to play Josephine, a successful British con artist living quite well in the South of France who seems to target rich men who have somehow wronged or objectified women—a noble cause, certainly. She joins forces (not necessarily willingly) with Australian scammer Lonnie (Rebel Wilson), who deeply admires the sense of style, decorum and cunning Josephine uses while duping her marks. Lonnie is a bit more on the brash side, running road-tested cons involving sick relatives and the like.
In the guise of Josephine, Hathaway puts on both a British accent and a German accent (for a particularly elaborate job), and you can almost feel her pushing both a bit too far, moving into parody rather than attempting to put on accents that are convincing. Her doing the accents isn’t funny, nor does it have to be for the film to work, but it’s clear that she thinks it is. The lack of humor in her performance is particularly noticeable since she’s working alongside Wilson, who is a gifted comic actor and improvisor. I’m not saying everything Wilson says and does lands, but her percentages are much better than her co-star’s.
After the pair work their way through a series of smaller-scale cons, with Josephine essentially acting as teacher and mentor to Lonnie, they decide to make their partnership/rivalry official by placing a bet on who can hook a particular mark—a young, rich app inventor (Alex Sharp, How to Talk to Girls at Parties), who’s almost too kind and generous to be true and is a bit of a pushover, if we’re being honest. Lonnie fakes having hysterical blindness, while Josephine pretends to be the only doctor in the world who can cure her, for the right price, and the women take turns attempting to separate this poor guy from his money.
First-time feature director Chris Addison (also an actor, who has directed many episodes of HBO’s “Veep”) certainly has a flare for shooting exotic locations and making people look wealthy and places appear expensive. He’s also smart enough to give Wilson the room she needs to do her thing, which results in mixed, but often quite amusing, results. My favorite supporting player (most of whom are fellow conspirators hired by Josephine to carry out her cons) is Ingrid Oliver’s Inspector Desjardins, who appears to come in at the end of the con to bust it up but ends up being the force that seals the deal, leaving the mark thinking he’s avoided being ripped off. The Hustle certainly has its moments, but its hobbled by a specific miscalculation in its casting, which still makes me sad to report.
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