Grade: C+
Entire family: No
2019, 93 min., Color
Comedy
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and language
MGM / Universal
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: C+/B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

Rebel Wilson was funny in the Pitch Perfect movies and Bridesmaids, but films like The Hustle continue to prove that she’s not well suited to play a leading role. Her schtick, let’s call it, is a comedy of character that’s not up to the fast pace of the 2010s. It’s like watching Stan Laurel wiggle and squirm and fiddle with his hat and slowly, increment by increment, try to react or explain something to a befuddled partner (or audience). At some point, you tend to lose patience because the humor, often crude or full of innuendo, is so protracted out. Instead of a bouncy spring, it’s drawn out so it becomes flat as can be.

That’s the adjective that best describes The Hustle: flat. It’s lacking energy, and features only a handful of laugh-out-loud moments where you think, gee, I wish there were more of those. And they’re all in the trailer. The plot, meanwhile, is a rehash of things we’ve seen before, which only adds to the movie’s flatness. And that’s not even getting into co-star Anne Hathaway’s “British accent,” which sounds like the kind of accent that you or I would attempt at a party to amuse folks. As a snooty Brit con artist, she just isn’t convincing enough. And Wilson, as her American counterpart, is also a bit hard to believe as a con artist who could make men part with their money.

The film is a remake or variation of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in which Michael Caine and Steve Martin played two con artists with gigantic egos who decide once and for all to see who’s the best by having a contest to see who can be the first to bilk an American heiress out of $50,000. In this version, given inflation, the bet is $500,000, and the players are a small-time grafter (Wilson as Penny) and a sophisticated and very rich con artist (Hathaway as Josephine). They meet in Europe when Penny gets in the way of Josephine’s con and also turns up on the French Riviera after learning that’s where Josephine is going . . . and where the really rich people are. After competing they finally decide to team up, and that leads to scrambled egos with egg on Penny’s face, which leads to the ultimate contest over a goofy, nerdy, rich tourist (Alex Sharp as Thomas).

Maybe it’s Wilson and Hathaway, or maybe it’s the screenplay-by-committee that’s the problem. This film by Chris Addison, who’s making the leap from TV to the big screen, just doesn’t have much substance or oomph—though fans of Veep (Addison directed 13 episodes) will be delighted to see Timothy Simons (Jonah, on the show) turn up. Since Veep is so smart and this screenplay by a committee of seven is so lackluster, it would be fair to conclude that the problem is in the writing . . . and there are way too many of those scenes where Wilson does the Stan Laurel wiggle to think that showcasing her was a good idea. If we could conduct an experiment and feature Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the con artist roles, we could pinpoint the problem a little better. My guess is that it wouldn’t help a whole lot.

There are a few plot twists, but you can see them coming, even if you never watched Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or the David Niven and Marlon Brando film that inspired it, Bedtime Story. Either one of those films is more entertaining to watch, unless of course you’re a huge Rebel Wilson and/or Anne Hathaway fan.

Language: Fairly mild, just the gamut of lesser swearwords

Sex: A little in the way of kissing and a lot in the way of innuendo and gestures, but still mild overall 

Violence: I don’t recall seeing anything in the way of violence

Adult situations: There’s plenty of drinking but no real drunkenness, with some scenes taking place inside a casino and others inside restaurants

Takeaway: These days every film like this ends up generating a sequel, but if that happens I hope Addison decides to write the screenplay himself and, in the meantime, learn that what often works on the small screen doesn’t translate well to cinema

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