‘The Hustle’ (2019) Review: A Remake of ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ That Isn’t Dirty Nor Rotten Enough

by By Steve Pulaski

The Hustle boils down to a beat-by-beat remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that isn’t dirty nor rotten enough. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson — whose schtick has just about run out of laughs at this point — work overtime, exhausting their uniquely different charisma in order to rescue a mostly lazy script, proving this is yet another case where talented actors must hoist the dead-weight of a project’s screenplay on their backs. At least it shaved 20 minutes off its amusing but ultimately underwhelming predecessor’s runtime.

Originally titled “Nasty Women” — which would’ve been funnier and more distinguishable — the film wastes no time establishing its conceit. It opens on Penny (Wilson) meeting an unassuming dolt at a bar. He thinks he’s been conversing with a buxom blonde via text when he’s really been catfished by a con-artist. Penny claims she’s the woman’s sister, present because she couldn’t make it to the date because she’s insecure about her A-cup breasts and needs money for a boob job. As Penny is chased out of the bar by policemen who have been led on to her schemes by another victim, the guy is still trying to Venmo hundreds of dollars to Penny’s account on the spot. She narrowly escapes and picks up a French magazine on the ground. So her (and our) adventure begins.

Cut to Josephine (Hathaway) in France, who is doubling-down on the dim-witted Southern belle stereotype before a wealthy gambler in a casino. She ogles him into giving her a diamond bracelet, but the only difference is, when she’s “caught” by a female security officer for scamming an old man, they prove to be her entourage who help secure her money and the bracelet. Both of these sequences combine for a promising start to a film predicated on the idea that men are so blinded by sexuality and happiness that comes with a price-tag that they could let their guard down so long to be duped. The thought of these two gals teaming up and making mincemeat out of moronic men is a joy, but like the film, it’s only a farce.


Following in the footsteps of the 1988 Steve Martin/Michael Caine film, Penny and Josephine, upon meeting and trying to work together, realize that Beaumont-sur-Mer is too big for both of them. They set their sites on an app-inventor named Thomas (Alex Sharp), who they believe is too naive and young to know he’s being taken for a ride. The two try to take the man for $500,000 using different approaches, and if you’ve seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, there’s no reason for me to go any further. Penny masquerades as a crude blind woman who needs money for a surgery that will grant her the ability to see, while Josephine takes it upon herself to pose as the doctor who can conduct the operation.

Modernizing and gender-swapping beloved classics apparently worked out well enough for Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8 that Hollywood began giving the same treatment to films even fewer people asked for, such as the Taraji P. Henson film What Men Want (based on the 2000 Mel Gibson film What Women Want), the Eugenio Derbez/Anna Faris-led Overboard, and now The Hustle. With the cards stacked against many of these films solely on the merit of their very existence being questionable, works of this nature need to bring something intriguing or worth-watching to the table, as they’re already treading familiar territory.The Hustle was poised to be a film that could’ve capitalized on the aforementioned desperation of lonely, and yes, shallow men who find themselves going to great lengths to get a woman’s attention, among other things. So much of that concept is out the door after the fairly entertaining first act, as the jokes then shift to the differences in how Penny and Josephine approach a con. Penny is buffoonish and clumsy, while Josephine uses her slender figure and lavish dresses to make her just the kind of immaculate prize men are so motivated to earn.

It took four writers (one of whom, Captain Marvel‘s Jac Schaeffer) to take a potential-ridden idea and drain it of its exuberance. Fan-favorite actress Anne Hathaway is watchable in even the glummest miscalculations, and she resorts to a handful of fake accents and her copious amounts of class to salvage the picture. Rebel Wilson, on the other hand, is once more a one-trick pony the same way Melissa McCarthy has proven to be. From How to Be Single to Isn’t it Romantic to the Pitch Perfect sequels, Wilson’s style of comedy has a very short shelf-life and it’s far past the expiration date, as she’s scarcely been less funny than she is in The Hustle. It’s almost as if she is at her funniest when her quick-witted nature and vulgar one-liners are at the forefront. It’s a shame the writers, through all their rewrites, tweaks, and improvements, I’m sure, once more undermined her capabilities.

I had to do a double-take when I saw The Hustle wasn’t a product of Paul Feig, the same man who gave us Ghostbusters,BridesmaidsThe Heat, and other female-centric comedies. However, after the release and success of A Simple Favor, a devilishly good caper, I suspect he’s on to more adventurous projects that command more thought and a fruitful execution for all involved. It seems like everyone else trying to capitalize on this trend is a few years behind and playing catch-up. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a remake of the Marlon Brando/David Niven film Bedtime Story from 1964. Consider that film spring-water, if you will; the best version of the core idea you’ll ever get. Distill it once years later and you have tap-water, a serviceable but noticeably inferior product, which was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Sticking with this analogy, The Hustle, by comparison, is the equivalent of hot dog water: used, disposable, and equipped with a pungent aftertaste.

Grade: D+