I do not know how Rebel Wilson did it, but she managed to be in two of the worst films of 2019. Already having punished the world with Isn't It Romantic, she now has doubled its collective misery with The Hustle, making the case that 'Fat Amy' really has nothing to show to justify her cinematic career. Fortunately for her however, she brought along a friend: Anne Hathaway, who may have her Oscar recalled after this film.
Ostensibly a female-led remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which itself was a remake of the film Bedtime Story), The Hustle is about two professional con artists.
As a side note, I have not seen either Bedtime Story or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Frumpy Australian Penny Rust (Wilson) has been hitting small-time marks by peddling a story about her "sister", a much more attractive woman with large breasts. Playing on the sympathies and/or lusts of her male marks, Penny manages to scam the men and get away with it. Visiting the French Riviera, Penny soon encounters posh Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway), an alleged British master con artist who uses her feminine wiles to outwit men. She knows that men are invariably stupid because of their inherent sexism and misogyny, making them easy marks to an allegedly intelligent woman.
Josephine at first attempts to get rid of this bad Penny but after she gets wise to Josephine the latter decides to make Penny her apprentice and partner in crime. Josephine passes herself off as a member of the House of Windsor and after accepting the marks' marriage proposal, she throws in her 'sister' who is quite bonkers. The men all flee, leaving their lavish engagement rings behind. However, it's after Josephine refuses to give Penny any money for her work that Penny decides, 'if you can't join them, beat them'.
Staying on in France, their continuous interruptions finally leads to a bet: whoever can dupe an agreed-upon mark out of $500,000 gets to stay in France with the loser leaving forever. They select Thomas Westerberg (Alex Sharp), a tech billionaire in the Mark Zukerberg-mode who created an app that sends insulting jokes which disappear in ten seconds. Josephine has no idea who Thomas is, but Penny does.
As they battle it out to win their bet, Penny finds she develops feelings for Thomas, especially since he seems genuinely sweet, seems to actually like her for herself and finds that he is really nearly broke. Not wanting to steal from someone who cannot afford it, Penny wants to call off the bet but Josephine refuses. However, in the end both end up being duped themselves and find that neither is as clever as she thought.
Again, having never seen either Bedtime Story or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it's hard to say how near or far The Hustle stays within the original story. However, given that Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning wrote all three and Dale Launer co-wrote Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with them, I figure they stayed pretty close to the original formula. The Hustle co-writer Jac Schaeffer is the only new voice in the film.
It's already a bad sign when you have four credited screenwriters, a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. However, The Hustle suffers from what plagues more than a few gender-swapped remakes in its thinking that 'just change the leads from men to women and you'll have the exact same results'. It's going to take a while before Hollywood realizes that you just can't take a role written for a man, change the role to a woman and you'll get an equal success.
Sometimes a gender-swap can work wonders: the gender-swap of Hildy from the original male in The Front Page to female in His Girl Friday. However, His Girl Friday had Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht working on it, and added the element of the leads being formerly married. The Hustle, conversely, has two very horrible people portrayed in two terrible, terrible performances.
No one will ever mistake Anne Hathaway or Rebel Wilson for Rosalind Russell.
Films like His Girl Friday are the exception rather than the rule, and The Hustle goes disastrously wrong in thinking that its misandry inoculates it from being unpleasant, arrogant, hypocritical and especially insulting. Its premise is based on a very unpleasant, even angry idea about men: that they are interested only in physical attractiveness, that they think all women are stupid and can be easily duped.
Misandry is just as ugly as misogyny, and The Hustle revels in it.
If The Hustle does follow the exact plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels down to its 'twist' ending, the female-empowerment film Wilson (who was also a producer), Hathaway, the cavalcade of screenwriters and director Chris Addison all deluded themselves in thinking they made actually ends up being the total opposite. Here's the spoiler: Josephine and Penny are themselves duped by Thomas, who is himself a con artist trained by his never-seen grandmother and their idol, a mysterious figure known as "Medusa".
If Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ended with this same twist, that would make DRS a real female empowerment film because the woman played the men for fools and ended up triumphing over them. With The Hustle, it was the 'empowered' women who ended up as the fools and subservient to the very young man.
As a side note, Thomas wearing hoodies is clearly a nod to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The acting is beyond atrocious. It's almost sickening. I have never been a 'Hatha-Hater' who thinks Anne Hathaway is a bad actress (though to be fair I do not think she should have won Best Supporting Actress for singing one song in Les Miserables). However, Hathaway in The Hustle has to be one of the worst performances in film history (and for the record, I have not yet seen Serenity, her other 2019 film, so there's that).
Her British "accent" was so laughably bad I kept waiting to find that the film would announce it was a put-up job. At one point, Penny shouts "we all know you're from Wisconsin" and thought at last the secret's out. However, The Hustle kept pushing the idiotic idea that Josephine fooled anyone into thinking she was somehow British.
Honestly, I don't think there has been a worse 'British' accent in film history than Anne Hathaway's in The Hustle (unless you count Anne Hathaway's faux-British accent in One Day). Hell, Kevin Costner sounded more British in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves than Anne Hathaway did in The Hustle. Dick Van Dyke's Cockney tones in Mary Poppins sounded more British than Anne Hathaway's in The Hustle.
Things would have worked better if in the beginning Josephine passed herself off as British then reverted to an American accent rather than vice-versa. What a horrendous choice.
Wilson was up to her usual unfunny shtick. From playing dumb to playing blind not once did she make Penny Rust any good. And also, "Penny Rust". Just the name alone is dumb.
Only newcomer Alex Sharp came across relatively unscathed in this fiasco of a film. He made Thomas believable as this sweet young man who ends up conning the cons. Curiously, the British actor's American accent actually worked, making Hathaway's embarrassing British accent all the more eye-rolling.
The Hustle is so shockingly bad yet it seems to make sense to bring together two women responsible for a lot of terrible 2019 cinema. The Hustle is too convinced of its cleverness and feminist credentials to see that instead of being masters of the con they are the real dupes.