The Hustle (2 stars)

The Hustle

Gender-swapped rehash of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that sells stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson short

Although for the most part a cologne-drenched romp, 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (a remake of 1964's Bedtime Story) ultimately saw a female patsy turn the tables on the men who tried to swindle her – played by Michael Caine and Steve Martin – in a nod to the changing times. It's perhaps appropriate then that, 31 years on, its own remake takes things further by switching in a pair of female leads.

Its pedigree is at least promising. Directed by The Thick of It star Chris Addison (making his feature debut after plying his trade in sitcoms including Veep), it has a female screenwriter in Jac Schaeffer. Sadly, The Hustle is the kind of smug, poorly drawn caper that Hollywood seems to think is charming but is little more than thinly disguised wealth porn. It began life as the promisingly titled 'Nasty Women' (the insult Donald Trump slung at Hillary Clinton, later adopted as a badge of honour), suggesting something both provocative and topical. What has emerged is neither.

Anne Hathaway plays the glamourous Josephine Chesterfield, a high-class British con-artist who, as in the original, hunts for her prey in the fictional French Riviera town of Beaumont-sur-Mer. This slick huckster is thrown off her game by the arrival of Rebel Wilson's gritty Antipodean grifter Penny Rust, who brings her own slapdash but not entirely unsuccessful style – she's initially a curiosity, then a collaborator, then a competitor.

It's mildly perplexing as to how this came to be. Is the story really so good it warrants a third rehash? (It isn't.) Can people really not come up with new stories for women? Although sticking closely to the events of its predecessor, Schaeffer makes something of the shift in gender; Josephine has accrued a large fortune from men's tendency to underestimate her, and possesses formidable womanly wiles. Conceptually, it feels less cruel than before: with the exception of the ladies' ultimate target – app inventor Thomas (Alex Sharp) – the marks tend to be sleazy and sexist, while Wilson's strategy is vaguely avenging in nature.

However, The Hustle has its own mean streak. While Hathaway appears in a succession of incredible outfits in a film that takes every opportunity to revel in her physique, Wilson, as seems to be her cinematic lot, is the butt of endless jokes relating to her supposed unattractiveness. The effect of this treatment is eventually referenced in the script but it's feeble, disingenuous and fleeting.

Worse, given its fundamental remit to amuse, the dearth of decent gags leaves its stars visibly flailing. Wilson gives it her easy-breezy best but, at points, can be seen desperately searching for some comedy to cling to. Hathaway's performance is rather more effortful, yet she's undeniably game. Instead of empowering them to get their hands dirty, The Hustle pulls a fast one on its leading ladies. By forgetting to bring the funny, it sets them up for a spectacular fall.

General release from Fri 10 May.

The Hustle

  • 2 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 34min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Chris Addison
  • Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Dean Norris
  • UK release: 10 May 2019

Josephine (Hathaway) is a British con artist who hunts for prey in the French Riviera, where she meets Australian grifter Penny (Wilson). This remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is smug, poorly drawn and full of jokes about Wilson’s character’s supposed unattractiveness. Wilson and Hathaway do their best, but it’s not…