There’s a war raging in Hollywood. On the front lines, agents and casting directors stand united against their sworn enemy: Anne Hathaway. Armed with bad script after bad script, they attempt to lay waste to the Academy Award winner’s career, trying in vain to vanquish one of the industry’s most talented performers. Still alive even after the onslaught of having to say “daddy” approximately 5000 times in Serenity, Hathaway faces her enemies’ most terrifying weapon yet: The Hustle.
Hathaway is critically injured by the deadly combination of a horrible British accent that she had no desire to do and her co-lead Rebel Wilson is continuing to cash in on the exact kind of frat boy humor she used to subvert. A remake of the 1988 buddy comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which in turn was a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Stories), The Hustle corners Hathaway into playing a debonair con artist named Josephine who engages in a battle of wits with the decidedly less elegant Penny (Wilson), the gags supposedly coming from the stark differences between their preferred swindling methods. That should make for at least a somewhat amusing gender-swapped remake that brings old jokes into the modern era, but director Chris Addison and a painfully unfunny script do nothing but suck the air out of the film’s already tired premise.
It’s a catastrophic misfire that genuinely makes you feel bad for Hathaway, who appears surrounded on all sides by what is essentially a more expensive version of straight-to-DVD garbage. There’s not much to say about her performance outside of the aforementioned accent from hell, as she’s given a shallow character with nothing to do outside of acting as some hokey aliases all worse than the one that came before. She’s essentially sidelined by Wilson, whose increasingly grating comic persona is starting to feel more regressive by the minute. Wilson rose to fame by turning the offensive “fat girl falling down” shtick on its head, poking holes in the trope by giving her characters a witty, warm energy that made them feel more human than caricature. As of late, she’s backed off from that more inspired route, fully buying into weight jokes and gross-out humor and turning in a performance every bit as irritating as the misogynistic trolls she used to duel with. There’s passing moments where her deeper talent shines through, but this largely makes a case for putting her tired gimmick to bed.
Most of the fault lies at the feet of Addison and the script, neither of which seem to have any sense. Addison, a stand-up comic making his feature film directing debut, simply has no sense of how to block scenes in a way that heightens the humor of the already dire lines he’s forced to work with. Each joke lands totally flat as a result, the sparse laughs coming more from Hathaway or Wilson’s delivery than the actual dialogue itself. The script, credited to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure writer Jac Schaffer and the original three Scoundrels scribes Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, and Dale Launer, reads more like a bottom-of-the-barrel SNL skit than a coherent comedy. From a mind-numbing extended sequence where Josephine cons men out of engagement rings using Penny as her medieval obsessed “sister” to a scene where Wilson eats a cracker out of a toilet, the juvenile comedy on display isn’t worthy of the bargain bin at your local Best Buy.
There’s occasional hints of a smarter film underneath all the trash, one with a more distinctly feminist outlook that sees women taking back their agency from the men who see them only as sexual objects. But it never fully appears, opting instead for easy jokes and even easier plot developments. It’s all undermined by a third act twist concerning the duo’s intended target, a naively sweet app inventor played by Alex Sharp who starts to bring out Penny’s softer side. The reveal and subsequent conclusion is the kind of plot point that proves female performers deserve better than simply gender-swapped roles, as the inversion in this case does nothing but make Hathaway and Wilson’s strong-headed women seem foolish.
While it could have a reasonably fun romp through the shores of France, The Hustle is ultimately not only the worst film of the year so far, it’s easily the worst film of Hathaway’s long career. Even a star as bright as Hathaway can only withstand taking ill-advised projects for so long, and if this nightmarish failure is any indication of where she’s going next, she’s starting to tread water. Wilson sure as hell isn’t going to be the one to save her from drowning.
The Hustle is now in theaters worldwide.