I love Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels. That con man caper just hits all the right notes for me, and the combination of Steve Martin and Michael Caine is just perfect. And that is saying nothing of Glenne Headly. I consider it a perfect comedy. Naturally, I was excited to see the remake, which changed the title to The Hustle and stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. That remake turned out to be somewhat disappointing. I wouldn’t call a complete loss, but it is a missed opportunity.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a movie that it is hard to get upset about seeing remake, if only for the fact that it was a remake itself. The common story to these three movies is one that lends itself well to changes to the details while keeping the core conceit in place. That conceit is that one character is an uncouth, small time con man, who meets up a refined, polished trickster. The two briefly form a partnership, but it soon becomes apparent that the town, Beaumont-sur-Mer, is not big enough for the both of them. So they concoct a competition to see who will have to stay and who will have to go. The details of the cons, and who is tricking who at any given time, could be changed without changing much of the appeal.
The Hustle, doesn’t change enough from its predecessor. Or maybe it changes too much? It gets into a weird place where things are different, but seemingly only because makers knew some things had to be different. Sometimes the changes make no sense. At one point in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Martin pretends to not be able to walk. Caine poses as a psychologist who can cure Martin’s psychosomatic condition. He takes Martin, and their mark, to a dance club, his fake theory being that seeing them moving around and having fun will snap him out of it. The same scenario plays out in The Hustle, except Rebel Wilson, playing the Steve Martin role, is pretending to be blind. How not seeing people dance will make her see again is unclear. It isn’t something she is forced to miss out on; blind people can dance and she can’t see people dancing without her. Many of the changes are like that, a seemingly small alteration that makes how the con plays out nonsensical.
The movie is at its best when it pushes things further away, like when Wilson is setting up fake tinder dates and scamming men out of money for fake boob jobs. Those bits work. As do a lot of the scenes that change nothing from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It is when the movie gets in that halfway state that it falls apart, when it keeps the set up but changes the punch line, or vice versa.
The other part where it didn’t change enough is in taking into consideration its new stars. Anne Hathaway does a decent Michael Caine impersonation, all haughty and controlled. She brings a very similar energy here, and it works. Rebel Wilson is no Steve Martin. That is not intended to be a dig at Wilson; she just brings a different comic energy that Martin does. They give the role completely different flavors of sleaze. It means that jokes that worked for Martin do not work as well for Wilson.
The bones of a good movie are apparent in The Hustle. The musculature built around those bones is lumpy and misshapen. While I will watch anything with Anne Hathaway in it, I’d rather just watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again.