If the premise of “The Hustle” seems familiar, it should.
The movie has been done twice before, first in the 1960s as “Bedtime Story” with Marlon Brando and David Niven, then as “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The big twist in the latest version is that the competing con artists are women – played by Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson.
Those actresses are so dissimilar, you’d have to figure the movie gets a lot of mileage out of their differences. It does, and both stars do what they do best … Hathaway playing it sly and refined, and Wilson putting her brash, no-holds-barred image right out there for all to see. However, the overall plot has gotten a little creaky over the 50-plus years since it was invented, and there’s only so much the ladies can do under those circumstances.
They target the developer of an app (Alex Sharp) as the intended victim of their swindle, and that’s about as modern as “The Hustle” gets. Which is not to say there isn’t fun in watching the women try to outdo each other amid the splendors of Southern France while also letting the opposite gender feel superior – mistakenly so, since Hathaway and Wilson know exactly how to work their marks.
The best moments of “The Hustle” don’t even involve men … at least the ones in front of the cameras. (Comedian turned filmmaker Chris Addison directed the picture.) In the traditions of such recent female-centric teamings as Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in “The Heat,” Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara in “Hot Pursuit” and the whole cast of “Ocean’s 8” (of which Hathaway was a member), Hathaway and Wilson clearly were cast for what they bring as individual performers as well as for the potential of what they could do together.
That’s very evident in a sequence that shows the refined Hathaway trying to educate the rough-around-the-edges Wilson in the finer points of the con game. You just know Wilson will stomp all over the tips Hathaway gives, but that anticipation doesn’t make watching the result any less amusing. And whether their characters are opposed to each other or working together here, the two talents appear to embrace their mission completely.
“The Hustle” is old-fashioned by design, and even if it ultimately can’t overcome that mustiness, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson deserve credit for still giving it all they’ve got.