In the last few years, we have seen several gender-swapped remakes of movies, and the latest is The Hustle, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. It’s a gender-swapped version of Bedtime Story (the 1964 original starring David Niven and Marlon Brando), and the more famous Michael Caine-Steve Martin comedy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Hathaway as “Josephine” takes the Niven-Caine role of a classy con artist living high on hog, while Wilson as “Penny” plays the Brando-Martin role of a more rough-around-the-edges con who finds herself in a much larger pond than her usual small-time hustles. The two women meet on the way to Beaumont-sur-Mer, a Riviera town where Josephine is well-established with a local network of accomplices, and comfortably fleeces rich men who can’t see past her doe-eyed façade. Penny, on the other hand, is selling a sob story about her “taken” sister, knowing men don’t see her as a threat—or really, see her at all—but will leap at the chance to rescue a damsel in distress.
The Hustle definitely works best if you have not seen either Bedtime Story or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Having seen both, it did not work for me at all, but I can imagine some of the bits working if you don’t know they’re coming. And though the feminism of The Hustle goes no deeper than its surface gender-swapping, it does assert that women do not have to get along just because they’re women. Spy does it better, but it at least gives some depth to The Hustle. Josephine and Penny do not like each other right away, and that is fine. There are some decent laughs mined from tony Josephine tolerating Penny’s crass presence, though it would be nice if Rebel Wilson’s schtick extended further than “fat girl vulgar jokes”. (Again, Spy is so much better and has a similar glamorous setting, just watch Spy!)
This is not to say, though, that The Hustle really works, just that it works best if you haven’t seen its predecessors. It doesn’t actually work. The bits feel like just that—bits. There is a lack of cohesion that stems from a lack of chemistry between Hathaway and Wilson. They don’t mesh, and at times they’re so out of synch it feels like they recorded scenes separately and were spliced together later. That robs The Hustle of the rosé sparkle of Ocean’s 8, and it makes every scene feel like it is coming in from another movie. There are some okay laughs in The Hustle, but it never gains consistent momentum.
I get why these remakes keep happening—studios are petrified of anything that isn’t existing IP, so it is WAY easier to get this greenlit than an original comedy concept, especially starring women—but it doesn’t really help anything if the movies are bad. Each gender-swapped remake before has something to recommend it, but The Hustle isn’t really offering anything except Anne Hathaway’s wardrobe. Hathaway and Wilson both deserve better, though maybe in separate movies since they don’t have any chemistry, and this is one gender-swapped remake where you really can say that they should have just left it alone. It’s too bad, because The Hustle looked really promising, but it turns out to be a mediocre airplane movie, at best.