Review – Just Another Rom-Con (“The Hustle”)

No, this isn’t a documentary about the 70’s dance craze (i.e. “Do the Hustle!”), rather it’s the third remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story, which we already know as the much beloved 1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine & Steve Martin. BUT! Being 2019, this remake must feature an all-female cast because it’s 2019.

If you saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, then you’ll recognize this nearly a carbon-copy rip-off gender-bender with a few minor changes. We meet our first con, Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson) catfishing men with her usual scam, until it’s time to move on to the French coastal village of Beaumont-Sur-Mer. There she plys her trade on an unsuspecting man while under the watchful eyes of the queen of con herself, Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway). Pretty soon the two meet up after Penny discovers Josephine’s racket, and then it’s a game of slob vs snob as the refined Josephine tries to turn Penny into a decent con artist like herself. It doesn’t work.

Just like the 1988 movie, it proceeds to hit all the same points: Josephine and Penny do the ‘heiress and her deranged sister act’ with wealthy men but, tired of that game, they settled on a bet. Whoever doesn’t extract $500K from lovable loser Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp), who’s a phone-app millionaire, has to leave town for good. As Josephine tries her best, Penny assumes the guise of a geeky girl whose ‘hysterical blindness’ can only be cured by the famed Austrian psychologist, Dr. Fredrika Schaffhausen. And, waddaya know, it costs $500K for the cure!

The rest is pretty much the same, scene for scene, with even some of same dialouge being spoken word-for-word from the 1988 movie! The ending has the same exact twist, but with a strange and unnecessary coda. I guess this film raises the question, why was it even made? I guess the four screenwriters thought so. That’s right. FOUR screenwriters wrote this seemingly cut ‘n’ paste version. Seriously, ya think with four writers they could have come up with something unique, different, timely, and FRESH! Not simply recycling the same movie twice! Oy!! As Deadpool would say, “Well that’s just lazy writing”. This also marks the theatrical debut of director Chris Addison who, up until now, has only directed TV shows like Veep and Fresh of the Boat. So, does it all work?

First off, I abhor remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings. I also believe the original 1988 version is pure cinematic gold and is untouchable. That being said, I have to say that this movie did have some moments that made me laugh. Anne Hathaway is simply amazing; with her flawless accents, her impeccable acting and comedic timing, she can elevate the weakest script to new heights. I just love watching her. Rebel Wilson is… well… Rebel Wilson. When she’s NOT being totally annoying, glaring, and obnoxious, she occasionally gets to you. Then you have co-star Ingrid Oliver as the wickedly funny lo-key police chief Brigitte Desjardins and Sharp who is about as innocent as you can get.

Worth your ticket? Meh. If you never, ever saw the highly superior Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or even the 1964 original Bedtime Story, you might come away thinking this was an enjoyable piece of fluff with some decent performances and a quirky script. However, those of us who know better, look at this movie like that gif of Ryan Reynolds saying “Why?”over and over again. Why was this doppelganger even made? It serves no purpose other than to gender-bender a perfectly excellent movie and ruin it in the process. Welcome to 2019, folks.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Really, you can’t get better than this movie. A remake of the obscure 1964 comedy Bedtime Story with Marlon Brando & David Niven, this hilarious and broad farce featured Michael Caine and Steve Martin at their comedy peak with the late, great Glenne Headley as the femme fatale, who is forever in our hearts.

The con is on in the quiet little French village of Beaumont-Sur-Mer. The debonair man of distinction (and master of the con game) there is British aristocrat  Lawrence Jamieson (Caine) who plys his trade on overly-wealthy women at the casinos, usually posing as a Prince. His henchman and partner-in-crime is Andre (Anton Rodgers), the local police official. Life is good for Lawrence, this is, until a flashy, crass, and high-brow con man dares to enter his turf and steals his thunder… and money! This two-bit American hustler is Freddy Benson (Martin) and, rather than have him worm his way in, Lawrence tricks him into leaving.

Ah, but Freddy sees through the lies and “wants in” on all the lavishness and $$$ of Jamieson’s con game. . .or else! Reluctantly, Lawrence attempts to teach the uncouth Freddy style and refinement, but without success. He then involves Freddy in his cons, having him play a wildly mentally challenged and socially inept brother named Ruprecht to scare away women that Lawrence has seduced for their money. This works for a while, but Freddy gets bored and a bet is struck: the first to con $50,000 out of a selected mark wins; the other must leave town. They select Janet Colgate (Headley), a naive American heiress as their target.

While Lawrence does his Prince routine, Freddy poses as a wheelchair-bound, psycho-somatically disabled U.S. Navy veteran who needs $50,000 for treatment by the celebrated Dr. Emil Schaffhausen, who naturally doesn’t exist. When Janet shows sympathy to Freddy, Lawrence poses as Dr. Schaffhausen, agreeing to treat Freddy, but stipulating that Janet pay the $50,000 fee directly to him. From there it’s a hilarious game of one-upmanship, as Freddy and Lawrence try to out-con each other AND Janet as the same time. In the end, Janet gets to Freddy, having him ‘walk for the first time’, thereby losing the bet, but she also gets to Lawrence by having him give her $50K for her troubles!

The end is a twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan movie as you can’t help but laugh at the finale. A terrific and fast-paced screenplay by Dale Launer (My Cousin Vinny), Stanley Shapiro (Bedtime Story), and Paul Henning (TV series like The Beverly Hillbillies & Green Acres), there wasn’t a dropped note or plot hole I could find. In short, it’s probably one of the best scripts around and has stood the test of time. It’s remarkably funny, has a quick and steady plot that doesn’t deviate from the initial narrative, and the dialogue is witty, smart, and worthy of repeating (like a Monty Python movie). The whole Ruprecht scene alone is LOL hilarious with Martin & Caine showing a high degree of their comedic timing ability, like Martin & Lewis or Laurel & Hardy.

And to cap it all off, you have Muppet-master Frank Oz (Little Shop of Horrors) directing this and letting everyone have fun with their characters. Originally, it was to be Eddie Murphy & John Cleese as the con guys, but that fell through. Then Richard Dreyfuss was considered for Freddy but, thankfully, Steve Martin was signed! How good was this movie? Besides making a killing at the box office, it also spawned a very successful Broadway musical which, I can say with some humility, I was part of a few years ago.

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