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'The Hustle' strays from its dirty, rotten mark

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Anne Hathaway stars as Josephine Chesterfield and Rebel Wilson as Penny Rust in THE HUSTLE, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.Credit: Christian Black / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.{ }(Photo: MGM)

The Hustle
2.5 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Chris Addison
Writer: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, Jac Schaeffer
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Tim Blake Nelson
Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual content and language

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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: An established high-class scam artist looks to protect her turf from a low-brow schemer.

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Review: Last year I attended a preview performance of the Donmar Warehouse’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” The play was performed twice. The first time was a traditional, albeit truncated, version of the play set in 1604 with Angelo (Jack Lowden) being in a position of power over Isabella (Hayley Atwell). After an intermission, the setting of the action was pushed forward to 2018 and Angelo and Isabella’s positions of power were switched. Director Josie Rourke was specifically looking at sex and power and the results were interesting and challenging in unexpected ways.

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It was hard for me not to think of that performance as I went into “The Hustle,” a gender-swapped remake of 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” By the end of “The Hustle” I concluded that comparisons between the two productions were an apple to oranges affair. “The Hustle” isn’t directly about reassessing gender politics, it is a scene for scene remake of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” that updates a few of the original elements to give the story a contemporary spin and so happens to have female leads, rather than male leads.

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Replacing Steve Martin and Michael Caine in the remake are Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway. I’ve been on Hathaway’s bandwagon for as long as I can remember (her talent exceeds her taste in projects) and while Wilson tends to play the same sort of character in her films, I typically like her.

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Unfortunately, “The Hustle” just didn’t work for me. It felt flat, forced and a little hollow. Part of the problem is that, being familiar with “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” I knew exactly where everything was going. The original film felt like a runaway train, particularly when it came to Martin’s performance. It was outrageous. “The Hustle” just didn’t have that spark. Wilson isn't quite the scenery-chewer that Martin is and Hathaway wasn't nearly as mean as she should have been.

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Director Chris Addison has a great resume with directing credits that include episodes of “The Thick of It” and “Veep,” but the wit and sass of those shows is missing from “The Hustle.” Maybe a little Julia Louis-Dreyfus would have helped this.

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There were some in the audience who reacted more positively to the film. Laughing at every overplayed beat. I just wasn’t one of them.

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