The breathtaking setting in the south of France and the zippy music and the madcap bits of physical shtick tell us “The Hustle” wants to be a slick and silly romp — a nice piece of escapism, if you will.
By the halfway mark, only professional obligation kept from plotting my own early escape.
Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson put up the good fight and do their best to add zip and zest to a punch-less, nearly laugh-free, unimaginative story about a pair of mismatched con artists — one sultry and sophisticated, the other oafish and sloppy.
Can you guess who plays which character?
Perhaps “The Hustle” might have been more interesting if Hathaway had been the cloddish, small-time con artist Penny Rust and Wilson had been the glamorous, millionaire grafter Josephine Chesterfield, but it’s the other way around.
So predictable. Just like everything in this movie. If you don’t see the long con coming in this story, either you’re not paying attention or …
No. That’s the only possible explanation. Your mind wandered to thoughts of better movies playing elsewhere, perhaps right next door to this debacle.
“The Hustle” is an update on the implausible but amusing “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988) which starred the inspired team of Steve Martin and Michael Caine. (And that film was an re-imagining of the David Niven-Marlon Brando movie “Bedtime Story” from 1964.)
It’s a promising twist to have the women pulling off the cons on a series of sexist, superficial and incredibly stupid men — but “The Hustle” features some of the dopiest, most simple-minded and profoundly uninteresting (AND unfunny) cons ever rendered on film.
Whether it’s the crass and loud and obnoxious Penny duping jerks by spinning ridiculous tales about her gorgeous sister needing breast implants, or her gorgeous sister having been kidnapped in a storyline straight out of the first “Taken,” or the glam and beautiful Josephine pulling off six-figure cons in the casino at Beaumont-sur-Mer or at her fabulous villa on the Mediterranean, the so-called cons are solely dependent on the marks being profoundly stupid.
Wilson can be a stitch (“Pitch Perfect”), but here she’s doing the same, increasingly tiresome stuff: twerking and tripping and slipping and falling and bouncing off people as she makes unfiltered “wisecracks” that aren’t particularly funny or insightful.
Making matters worse: Hathaway employs a dreadful British accent that would be less than convincing in a three-minute “SNL” sketch — and then an even worse German accent when she impersonates a legendary doctor known for curing “hysterical blindness,” which by the way is an outmoded term for Conversion Disorder, and we’re getting deep in the weeds here, but the plot takes us to a point where Penny is pretending to be blind and Josephine is pretending to be the doctor who can cure her through unorthodox methods, but it’s going to cost a cool half-million.
Enter the wide-eyed, bumbling tech entrepreneur Thomas Westerbug (Alex Sharp), who made a fortune by inventing an app by which you can send insults to your friends that will disappear after 10 seconds. (In the movies, invented apps always sound like they didn’t need to be invented.)
At one point we learn Josephine is worth nearly $30 million — and yet she continues to ply her trade in the same community on the French Riviera. Why? Why, Josephine? Why risk being captured when you’re set for life?
Then there’s Penny, who is arguably the loudest, least discreet, most memorably obvious con artist the movies have ever seen. And yet she keeps finding those dumb dupes, while the supposedly brilliant and diabolical Josephine can’t figure out how to rid herself of Penny — so they team up.
Even with a running time of 93 minutes, “The Hustle” felt about an hour too long.
United Artists presents a film directed by Chris Addison and written by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer. Rated PG-13 (for crude sexual content and language). Running time: 93 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.