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Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star in The Hustle.

Christian Black/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

  • The Hustle
  • Directed by Chris Addison
  • Written by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer
  • Starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson
  • Classification PG
  • 94 minutes

rating

“You could’ve been more!” is something I wanted to stand up and scream during the closing credits of The Hustle, director Chris Addison’s buddy comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. Instead, I packed up my popcorn, left the theatre and wondered how it all went wrong.

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That sounds harsher than I mean it to. But considering the talent of Addison (who has been involved in comedy juggernauts Veep, The Thick of It and In the Loop) and his two leads, expectations for a smart and cutting movie about two rival con artists were high. Hathaway has proven herself a beyond-bankable comedic actor thanks to vehicles such as Ocean’s 8, and Wilson is a comedy veteran in her own right. A story about two women who target sexist, rude, superficial men before competing over their perfect mark (a tech bro played by Alex Sharp) should’ve been a delightful way to explore social norms and the way women are expected to behave under the patriarchal umbrella. It should’ve been a smart way to look at the way some women navigate the world and their intentions. It should’ve done justice to the 1988 classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, on which The Hustle is based.

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But instead, it’s a story that hinges heavily on gags about Wilson’s looks while failing to give Hathaway’s character (a con artist named Josephine) any backstory whatsoever. At one point, Wilson’s character (a less successful con artist named Penny) at least explains that she targets men based on the way they judge her physicality. But as of this writing, I still have no idea who Josephine is, why or how she built her empire and whether she learned anything from her relationship with Penny. I do, however, know there’s a story line about Penny’s fake blindness that goes on far too long (“too long” meaning “it shouldn’t have happened in the first place”), that Wilson deserves to be more than being a walking punchline and that Hathaway was more convincing as a con queen when she played Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises. (At least then we knew her ethos was “eat the rich.”)

The Hustle should’ve been a comedy that served equal parts wit and social commentary – otherwise, why gender-swap? It should’ve given Wilson and Hathaway a means through which to shine. These are talented, seasoned, capable women. And for their experience to be wasted in a production that is below them, below their director’s filmography and below the original material is tragic.

Maybe not every movie is meant to be remade or reborn or updated. Maybe some comedies don’t need to make us think or do anything but serve lukewarm jokes for quick laughs. Maybe it’s severely uncool to expect anything from actors and directors we don’t know outside of their body of work. Maybe remake culture is just an easy way to spend an afternoon since it isn’t hurting anybody. Maybe we’re getting played for assuming that we deserve comedy that makes us think as well as laugh.

But I don’t think that’s true. I think – and Addison, Hathaway and Wilson have all proved this previously – that comedy can be compelling and thoughtful and the cause of a spit-take in a packed theatre. And until we all begin seeing that type of comedy as the norm (and demanding it), we’re all getting conned.

The Hustle opens May 10.

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