The charming, whimsical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in which a debonaire con artist played by a twinkling Michael Caine competes with a gauche American huckster essayed by Steve Martin, is itself a remake of 1963s Bedtime Story. So nobody gets to stomp and scream about their childhood being ruined.
Still, it’s hard to see how four credited screenwriters working from a successful blueprint turned in the script for The Hustle.
The official synopsis runs thus: "Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star as female scam artists, one low rent and the other high-class, who team up to take down the dirty rotten men who have wronged them" making this unlovely gender-swapped reboot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels sound like the most important feminist text this side of Andrea Dworkin's Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality.
It’s not. It’s also not competent, not funny, and, often, not remotely appropriate. (Did I just watch a scene in which Rebel Wilson pressures a reluctant sexual partner into “comedy” intercourse in a airplane lavatory? Yes I did.)
The biggest misstep is to turn the material into a crude, half-arsed sex comedy. The best scenes are (diminished) carbon copies of the original film. Rebel Wilson is left with far too much to do, and not enough material to work with, in every scene. Anne Hathaway’s accent is so appalling it drowns out all other considerations.
The mark they are competing over – gamely played by the Tony Award winning Alex Sharp – is appealing, a quality that only makes one wish he could be catapulted into a different, better film. Ditto Tim Blake Nelson’s throwaway butler shtick and Ingrid Oliver’s corrupt police official.
There are many dodgy mishaps that happen too late in the picture to mull over in detail. So let’s go with an early one: Rebel Wilson doesn’t seduce her victims; she uses a picture of a thinner, bustier blonde as a lure. Other objectionable developments follow.
By now, we’re accustomed to mediocre, ill-advised female-flipped comedies based on films that were largely mediocre and ill-advised in the first place. Looking at you, What Men Want and Ocean’s Eight. It requires a catastrophic alignment to make such a dog’s dinner of a decent conceit, especially when everyone involved is plainly working terribly hard.