The Hustle is incredible. Seriously, I am amazed. This is a comedy where every single joke, and I mean every single joke, falls totally totally flat. I just don’t know how they managed it.
What makes this even more surprising is that The Hustle is a remake of a previously successful and well regarded film so it isn’t even that they didn’t have anything to work with. Many of the gags in the movie are lifted wholesale from its predecessor as well but they have changed everything just enough so that the humour is entirely sucked out. Those involved really have done something quite unexpected. In other hands this would almost certainly have worked but in this case they have created a quite astonishingly poor piece of work. As if this wasn’t all remarkable enough, the film stars proven talents Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson and the film is directed by none other than Chris Addison.
Addison is a really good stand up comedian, he has shown himself to be very quick witted in various panel shows and displayed brilliant comic timing in The Thick of It. This is his first feature calling the shots and one assumes that to some extent or other Hollywood has chewed him up and spat this out.
Clearly Hathaway and Wilson themselves are no strangers to comedy either. Hathaway is certainly better as a dramatic actress but even if she’s not an out and out comedian she has proven herself well able to do quirky and amusing and she clearly has a good sense of humour. Wilson of course has made her name in funny films. The movie this takes from, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, had Michael Caine and Steve Martin and while Hathaway can’t match the former for cold class and very few people alive today can hold a candle to Martin when it comes to physical buffoonery, you can see why the assumption was that they’d have done something more with this. Part of the problem is that Wilson is playing the same schtick that she has done for some years now but with her trademark ribald directness reined in for a 12A audience. It is evident that Caine and Martin and their director Frank Oz elevated the mediocre material when they handled it back in 88. Looking back, the stings these two grifters pull weren’t sharp enough even then and the laughs were pretty broad but nonetheless something has gone wrong here.
What we have here is a con artist comedy where the comedy fails and there is no way that you’d believe the cons would succeed. The intention was clearly to update another film from the Hollywood back catalogue with a feminist spin but this doesn’t work either. Any sense of empowerment is undermined by the weak characterisation and some fairly clumsy and simplistic moralising about men’s shallowness.
Having given this ninety minutes of my time and five quid of my cash, the only joke that worked is the one that’s on me.
The Hustle is available for rental and purchase now but don’t fall for it.