Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson tussle in ‘The Hustle’
Once upon a time – in 1964, actually – there was a comedy about two con artists competing on the French Riviera. It was called Bedtime Story, and is chiefly remembered today for a number of reasons, one being that it was among Marlon Brando’s few comedies (he played the American con man), and despite not being successful the actor was quoted as saying it was one of the films he most enjoyed making, primarily because his co-star was David Niven (he played the Continental con man), one of the great show-biz raconteurs. The main reason that Bedtime Story is remembered, however, is because its (first) remake, 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – which starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine (in which roles should be obvious) – is considered by most to be a remake superior to the original. It certainly received better reviews and was a box-office hit. Had it not been for the financial woes of distributor Orion Pictures, there might well have been a follow-up. (Caine has said as much in his memoirs.)
Some 30 years later, along comes the third go-’round, directed by Chris Addison (a veteran of Veep making his feature debut) and starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in the principal roles. The setting, at least, remains the same: Beaumont-sur-Mer. Thus, if nothing else – and, indeed, there isn’t much else – the cast and crew enjoyed a sunny sojourn. They got a free trip; the audience gets the movie. It’s hardly a fair trade-off.
The screenplay is credited by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning (who wrote Bedtime Story) and executive producer Dale Launer (who adapted their script for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), with the new addition being Jac Schaeffer (Captain Marvel). The storyline adheres to its predecessors with one notable and fatal exception: It’s not funny. Making the con artists women may be a novelty, but it’s this forgettable film’s only one.
If Dirty Rotten Scoundrels surpassed Bedtime Story, The Hustle is a giant step back. Here is a quintessential example of an inferior remake, and there’s the palpable sense that Hathaway and Wilson are merely coasting. The former gets to wear a variety of designer outfits and indulge in a variety of accents (English, German); the latter, also one of the film’s producers, gets to wear a variety of shirts with ostensibly funny quotes and to indulge in her patented brand of brash slapstick, which is starting to wear thin, if it hasn’t already.
Alex Sharp plays the bumbling American tech innovator whom both ladies set their sights on, in a competition to see which one gets to stay in Beaumont-sur-Mer, but there’s not much suspense or much surprise in how it all turns out. Indeed, there’s not much at all to The Hustle, although it may qualify as a bedtime story in its own right because it’s such a snooze.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.