The Hustle

I didn’t make it to the screening of this movie, but caught it tonight at the best movie theatre in town — the Angelika Film Center on Carmel Mountain Road. After finishing the delicious burger (there might not be a better hamburger at any theatre), I reclined in my seat and was prepared for some laughs. Yet when the movie starts with Rebel Wilson on a train, trying to con a guy into a free meal (and ordered burgers, french fries, onion rings, three pieces of cake, a shrimp cocktail, and a few other things I can’t remember)…I wondered if the whole point of remaking Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was to gender swap and do fat jokes. I was expecting so much more; especially since Wilson surprised me by being such an appealing lead in the pleasantly entertaining Isn’t it Romantic a few months ago.

I saw the original Steve Martin/Michael Caine movie at the theatres when it came out in 1988. It was okay. I preferred the musical it spawned at the Old Globe a decade later (with John Lithgow and Norbert Butz). I realized though, that remembering the original takes away some of the humor when you know what’s coming. And speaking of the original, a few things they kept I liked. One of those was the music (composed by Anne Dudley). Often times, it reminded me of the original. Sometimes that’s a good move (I loved how in the remake of Cape Fear, Martin Scorsese kept the music from the original).

The other thing that was enjoyable was how they took a few of the exact scenes, and put their own spin on them. When Steve Martin was pretending to be paralyzed in a wheelchair and Caine was torturing him…in this Anne Hathaway does this to Wilson, who is pretending to be blind. In a scene where Martin asks Caine if he “can go pee” while they’re at the dinner table and he’s trying to con a rich woman….we laugh as Martin stays seated, with the camera showing his face going through a series of expressions. Audiences laughed at different times, as they came to the realization that he never left the table to go to the bathroom. The punchline in this was unexpected and elicited a big laugh out of me. Oh, and that brings me to another thing. I glanced at the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and many said they didn’t laugh a single time. Oh shut up! Of course you did. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not a ringing endorsement. I only laughed 4 or 5 times, and almost laughed another 3 or 4 times. The problem is that there should be a lot more chuckles.

And while I’m in the mode of attacking critics for lying about not laughing a single time, let me also knock Hathaway. I saw her on a talk show saying that you can accept women doing the cons, because they get paid less than men and so maybe it’s more justified for them to rip off men. Excuse me? So, does that mean Walmart employees that make a poor salary, can instead take money out of the register? Or can employees embezzle for a company since the CEO makes millions a year? And if she wants to talk about women making less, does she not even realize that’s not true in Hollywood? Let’s take this movie, for example. She and Rebel Wilson made an awful lot more than the male lead in this movie — Alex Sharp. Yet it’s Sharp that steals every scene he’s in and is the best part of the movie. But I digress. Let’s get to the premise.

Wilson plays Penny Rust (which sounds like the name of a Bond girl). She’s an Australian grifter who is content with taking guys at bars for a few hundred dollars. She ends up in the French Riviera because…well, she produced the movie, so why not go to a fancy location to shoot? She runs across Josephine Chesterfield (Hathaway), who is a high-end con artist. Since they both set their eyes on a new mark (Alex Sharp), they come up with a bet to see who has to leave town. The one that gets this rich, young tech billionaire to cough up some cash, wins and the other has to leave.

It’s a bit of fun watching Wilson play a blind person to gain the guy’s trust. It’s unfortunate that the funniest bit from that is shown in the trailers.

I didn’t care for the chemistry between Hathaway and Wilson, but the women are fine in their scenes with Sharp. Perhaps it wasn’t the chemistry between the two leads, as much as the fact that it seemed to go back and forth between whether they were friends conning others, or going to battle against each other. That made little sense.

The modern ways they updated things worked well (cell phones, Googling, Vemo, etc.).

It’s just a shame the script wasn’t sharper. When a snooty aristocrat character asks someone of low-class what their liquidity is….and the response is “I think I have some K-Y jelly in my purse”…that made me wish for more interactions like that. Instead, we’re supposed to laugh as Rebel Wilson tries to learn how to dance (which was cute in the original, painful here), or we’re supposed to laugh as Wilson falls or scarfs down food.

The opening credits were charming, and reminded me of the Pink Panther films. The ending of the movie was awful and not the least bit believable. In between the opening credits and the final scene — there just weren’t enough laughs.

1 ½ stars out of 5.

 

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