‘The Hustle’ disappoints, but Hathaway and Wilson not at fault

Rebel Wilson, left, stars alongside Anne Hathaway in "The Hustle." Photo Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Christian Black

Shallow script wastes immense talent as ‘Hustle’ skips carefree from one con to the next.

Rebel Wilson, left, stars alongside Anne Hathaway in "The Hustle."
Rebel Wilson, left, stars alongside Anne Hathaway in "The Hustle." Photo Credit: Marcus Santos

‘The Hustle’

Directed by Chris Addison

Starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp

Rated PG-13

There’s one genuinely funny moment in "The Hustle," a remake of the minor ’80s classic "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and its 1964 predecessor "Bedtime Stories."

It involves Anne Hathaway blowing air directly into Rebel Wilson’s eyeball, for reasons that are impossible to explain here, and it is a brief and telling glimpse at the heights of slapstick comedy the movie might have achieved had it provided these two gifted actors with a script worthy of their talents.

There’s a degree of creativity and spontaneous flair in that moment, which comes amid a sequence in which Wilson’s Lonnie and Hathaway’s Josephine pretend to be blind and a stern German doctor, respectively, as part of an elaborate attempt to con a young tech entrepreneur (Alex Sharp). 

But mostly, the movie unfolds on safe and steady terrain, afraid of the sort of dark satiric place warranted by a story in which everyone’s conning everyone else. It’s directed by Chris Addison without much in the way of style, save for animated opening credits in the "Pink Panther" mode, and the script (credited to Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer and Jack Schaeffer) feels designed to be as easily digestible as possible, providing smooth entertainment without working too hard.

Wilson is handed a familiar set of clichéd jokes and pratfalls while the story lightly skims its way from one big con to another. She is a gifted performer capable of more than broad physical shtick, but that’s most of what she’s given to do here: running into walls, writhing around in a "Lord of the Rings"-themed con, and the like.

Hathaway in comedy mode is always welcome — last year’s "Ocean’s 8" may have been something of a breakthrough in this area. She can act the hell out of pretty much anything. But the Oscar winner, too, is given relatively little to do beyond affecting a highfalutin British accent and going a little bit over the top.

The actors further struggle because there’s simply no consistency in this relationship, which shifts and transforms according to the whims of whatever might be needed at a particular moment. The best movies about con artists understand and evoke the thrilling nature of the scam and connect it back to the characters and their stories. There’s none of that here.

Robert Levin