Some remakes don’t just make us scowl. They leave us feeling blue for embracing the original.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” didn’t crush the box office back in 1988, making just $42 million stateside. Still, the sublime Steve Martin and Michael Caine proved irresistible over time. Just mention the name “Ruprecht” and complete strangers grin from ear to ear.
There’s no grinning, or even extended smiles, from “The Hustle.”
The new “empowered,” “feminist” take on those “Scoundrels” casts Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson as the Caine and Martin characters, respectively. Not bad on paper, right? An Oscar winner and a scene stealer take a crack at the con game.
Too bad the pairing is as big a dud as the movie.
Wilson stars as Penny, a clumsy con artist who heads to the South of France to separate more men from their cash. She justifies it by citing their cruel nature, displayed in an inept opening sequence foreshadowing the film’s brain-dead screenplay.
You gotta nail the first con to set things in motion. instead, it’s as believable as Ernest Becomes President.
She eventually meets Josephine (Hathaway), a gorgeous grifter threatened by Penny’s presence. They begrudgingly team up before settling on a mutual mark, a nebbishy tech gazillionaire (Alex Sharp). He’s so sweet, so susceptible to their cons, it sets their competitive juices on boil.
We’ve grown accustomed to movie remakes that steal the title for marketing purposes but quickly blaze their own trail. The upcoming “Child’s Play” do-over, for example, looks nothing like the source material.
“The Hustle” flips this concept on its head. The title may be different, but the key story beats are almost identical to the 1988 film. And, to be fair, that exposes how silly huge slabs of that movie were in the first place.
It still had Martin and Caine at their considerable peak … and Ruprecht!
FAST FACT: Rebel Wilson auditioned for the role in “Bridesmaids” that made Melissa McCarthy a comedy star. She ended up with a small supporting part instead.
Wilson boasts an off-kilter comic mojo that wrings laughter out of the spaces between limp put downs. And boy, does that talent come in handy here.
Still, there’s only so much she can do with this slapdash material. Hathaway, in comparison, is trying so hard you can see the calories burning. Her various accents sound authentic, but there’s nothing organic about the performance.
She’s not a natural comedienne, but a skilled director could still work wonders with her talent. Director Chris Addison (the far superior “In the Loop”) isn’t up to the task. Then again, given this script even Lucille Ball would struggle to make her mark.
Since this is a 21st century comedy we’re forced to endure some woke moments. The gals say they’re good at their gigs because men always underestimate women. Even the ending softens the spiky blow lest it hurt our poor widdle anti-heroines.
The film’s laugh quotient, anemic as it is, flatlines mid-film. So we’re left with a knuckleheaded con involving Penny’s suddenly sightless state.
The 1988 film, itself a remake of “Bedtime Story” with Marlon Brando and David Niven, showcased star power in its unfettered glory. It also had Fozzie Bear himself, Frank Oz, calling the shots.
This remake doesn’t go full woke, but it’s also relentlessly subpar.
HIT or Miss: Cue up your own “con” one-liner. No matter how you look at it, “The Hustle” is one inept remake.