Watching 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a deliciously wicked tale of grifters (Michael Caine and Steve Martin) trying to one-up each other in the beautiful South of France, you’ll oddly find yourself rooting for the “bad guys” throughout, grateful to be in on the con. Twenty-one years later, as you take in the Anne Hathaway-Rebel Wilson remake The Hustle, you may find it hard to shake the feeling that you’re being had.
Not very entertaining in and of itself, The Hustle pales even more drastically in comparison with Frank Oz’s late-80s pseudo-classic (itself a remake of the 1964 comedy Bedtime Story, starring David Niven and Marlon Brando), and any credit that Hathaway and Wilson have built up to this point in their respective careers can promptly be taken back for their even agreeing to sign up for this thing in the first place.
Hathway stars as Josephine Chesterfield, a stylish multi-millionaire who is in cahoots with the police in Beaumont-sur-Mer, where works her scams on the super-elite. Penny Rust (Wilson) is the rough-and-tumble, uncouth Australian who wants to get a few breaths of Josephine’s rare air. They agree the town isn’t big enough for the both of them, so a wager is struck—whoever can wheedle $500,000 from unsuspecting millennial tech mogul Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) wins. The other skedaddles.
Penny is first out of the gate, faking blindness to earn Thomas’ sympathy. Not to be outdone, Josephine pretends to be a renowned psychiatrist as an excuse to prescribe all manner of unconventional (and squirm-inducing) treatments to force her rival’s hand.
Those who have had the pleasure of seeing Scoundrels and/or Bedtime Story will find little in the way of fun or originality here. The plots are virtually identical (down to the names of locations and some characters), and the third-act twist is the same, too. Anyone who hasn’t might find a few things worthy of a chuckle but should also prepare for a barrage of comments from friends along the lines of: “Oh, you need to see the original—so much better!”
In truth, The Hustle serves very little purpose other than to give Hathaway a chance to stumble her way through a ridiculous British accent and Wilson a chance to stumble her way through, well… everything. I’m sure eventually people will get tired of Wilson prat-falling as she tries to do anything even remotely athletic, but apparently we haven’t reached that point yet. Now, if she and Hathaway had swapped roles, maybe we’d have been onto something…