“Hustlers” boasts an impressive female cast, but there’s little doubt who you’ll remember the most from it.
Also a producer of the fact-based drama, Jennifer Lopez has given herself a terrific role as the ringleader of a group of strippers who come up with a scheme to profit quite beautifully from practicing their profession. It has to do with bilking the wealthy men they coerce, but there‘s a lot more to the tale than that.
“Hustlers” also is a story of true sisterhood and of surviving tough financial times, especially when you’re a single parent who also has to fend for your child. Constance Wu plays a newcomer to the group, and you almost can understand why she was so upset about having to return to TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat” if it means having to turn down projects like this. The characters are well-defined and generally well-played, giving this a boost above a typical con-artist saga while also furnishing the means for good work by a number of actresses.
Lili Reinhart of “Riverdale” also is on board, as is Keke Palmer, who recently became a daytime talk-show co-host on the retitled “GMA3: Strahan & Sara & Keke” (on which she recently tried to teach the other hosts to pole-dance, a la “Hustlers”). Julia Stiles appears as the reporter who wrote the actual story that inspired the movie, which was written and directed by actress turned filmmaker Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”).
However, it’s Lopez who really sells “Hustlers.” Her acting career generally has coasted since her early high marks in “Selena” and “Out of Sight,” with rom-coms on the order of “The Wedding Planner” and “Second Act” becoming her norm. While those have shown off her appeal, they haven’t been particularly demanding in acting terms … but here, Lopez displays a wise and natural expertise that really is a thrill to watch. It’s a matter of seeing a star also being a skilled performer in the truest sense, and it’s not surprising to see her being discussed for a possible Oscar nomination. Her work stands out that much.
“Hustlers” might be compelling enough without her, but it’s a real bonus for the movie – and for viewers – that J. Lo takes it higher.