Chris Addison’s The Hustle proves that the devil really is in the details. The film’s relentlessly bouncy soundtrack and French Riviera setting exude a seemingly effortless charm, but it doesn’t take long to realize that that’s all smoke and mirrors—a means of masking the fact that this botched gender-swapped remake of Frank Oz’s 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a victim of a lifeless script that leaves its stars, Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, with little to do but crank up their quirks to annoying degrees.
Early on, Hathaway’s Josephine Chesterfield is working a con on a wealthy Danish businessman (Casper Christensen), and when he tells her his nationality, she feigns ignorance, asking, “Danish? Like the pastry?” Say what you will, but at least the filmmakers have the decency to set the bar low from the outset. This is a comedy of contrasts that doesn’t exactly force Wilson and Hathaway to play against type. Indeed, Wilson’s Penny Rust is, per usual for the Australian actress, a compendium of one-note, low-rent fat jokes, crass humor, and pratfalls, while Hathaway plays up Josephine’s upper-crust ostentatiousness to a degree that makes her Ocean’s 8 character seem like the epitome of restraint.
Inexplicability appears to be the guiding principle of the film, from Hathaway’s sorta-British accent to her posing as Dr. Shauffhausen—another carryover from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—across several interminable scenes that are mostly content to lean into the actress’s goofy German accent. Wilson’s obviously improvised bits consist largely of air-humping and sentences trailing off, and to counter-act that scenery-chewing, Hathaway defaults to going bigger and broader. The actresses admirably take a lot of big swings, but they rarely pay off.
In revealing her big piece of advice to Penny about why women are better con artists than men, Josephine proudly proclaims, “No man will ever believe a woman is smarter than him.” It’s played as a rousing moment of girl power, but anyone who’s seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels knows that statement will eventually be rendered moot once Penny and Josephine’s mark, Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp), enters the picture. Like other gender-swapped films in recent years, The Hustle plays the identity politics game as an end in itself.