Reboot: the act of taking an original property and reimagining it in a different context.
Remake: taking an original property and making the same film over again with minor alterations.
It’s important to clarify the difference between reboot and remake at the outset because these two words seem like synonyms, but the distance between them could not be vaster.
Take for example movies like “Ocean’s 8” or the 2016 version of “Ghostbusters.” For better or worse, these films are gender-swapped reboots of highly successful features starring men that have been reimagined as an offshoot of existing storylines.
“The Hustle,” the new comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, doesn’t reimagine the film on which it is inspired, 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
Director Chris Addison’s film is a rip-off: a beat-for-beat, scene-for-scene copy of a comedy classic, except in the case of “The Hustle,” everything is about 75 percent worse.
Star and producer Wilson takes on the Martin role playing a two-bit con artist with an outrageous personality, while Hathaway attempts a British accent for reasons unexplained in the film as a way to honor Caine’s performance as the sophisticated con scheming older millionaires out of their riches.
It’s a film that may seem cleverer for younger audiences, but this millennial version of “Scoundrels” lacks both the wit and sophistication of the original. This is an adaptation where cell phone applications play a large role, sex jokes are cruder and the women con arrogant men out of feminist revenge but only until it no longer serves the “Scoundrels” plot for them to do so.
There’s a phoniness to Hathaway’s accent that undermines her performance, somewhat taking away from the good work she does comedically in the film.
Hathaway appears to be as in on the joke in “The Hustle” as she was in last year’s far superior “Ocean’s 8,” but her homage to Caine doesn’t work cohesively with the rest of the film.
As Penny, Wilson is up to her usual comedic hijinks which occasionally work, but often feel out of place within the highbrow humor the film strives for.
Rather than put her own twist on the character, it feels like Wilson is almost trying to play a game of one-upmanship with Martin’s original performance, taking the broadest, most “look at me” stroke at every comedic turn.
Hathaway and Wilson could have great chemistry in a film written to accentuate their talents, but “The Hustle” simply falls flat across the board.
Aside from the two leads, the cast of “The Hustle” is littered with relative newcomers who don’t provide memorable moments. This partially may be due to mediocre casting and partially due to a condensed running time that thankfully shaves 20 minutes off from its predecessor.
There are four credited screenwriters for “The Hustle,” though two of them – Paul Henning and Stanley Shapiro – are responsible for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and its predecessor, the 1964 Marlon Brando comedy “Bedtime Story” and a third, Dale Launer, was also involved in the writing of “Scoundrels.”
This is important as large segments of dialogue in “The Hustle” are lifted straight from the pages of “Scoundrels,” while others might as well have been. The work new co-writer Jac Schaeffer did along with Launer to adapt and modernize the story muddles the comedy and infuses far too much pop culture that kills much of the timelessness of the original tale.
For a heist film about robbing people blind, the only suckers in “The Hustle” are audience members who pay money for a streaming-service quality film. Studios are already finding themselves having to fight an uphill battle to get people off their couch and into the theater for something besides the next blow ‘em up, comic book action flick. This complete failure does not help.
Audiences should wait until “The Hustle” can be seen in the privacy of their own home, or better yet, just watch “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” instead. It’s 10 times the movie at one-tenth the price.