The generic title is the giveaway: There’s something about “The Hustle” that leaves it constantly short of inspiration. For starters, it moves too fast.
Rushing along from one plot point to the next, the film can’t find time to let its stars stretch out, let alone breathe. The scattered laughs — and there are definitely a few here — don’t have anything to stick to.
It’s a remake of the 1988 “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin (itself a remake of a 1964 comedy, “Bedtime Story,” with David Niven and Marlon Brando). The new one keeps the French Riviera setting and the story of two feuding con artists.
The new wrinkle is a gender reversal: Instead of two men fleecing unsuspecting women, “The Hustle” has two women ripping off some very gullible men.
Josephine (Anne Hathaway) is a sophisticated grifter, already wealthy, with a seaside villa. Penny (Rebel Wilson) is new in town, a small-time operator with a clumsy style.
After a brief but grudging détente, they make a wager on which one can separate a young tech billionaire (Alex Sharp, from “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”) from $500,000. The loser has to leave town.
This leads to the best bits, as Penny’s outrageous shtick — she pretends to be a blind woman in need of a half-million-dollar operation — triggers a series of effective complications.
The actors work hard to get something going, and the labor shows. Hathaway has perfected an amusing trill in her character’s snobby laugh, but beyond that her performance is reminiscent of the time she co-hosted the Oscars with James Franco: gamely trying to be a good sport while her partner misbehaves.
Too often Rebel Wilson is left to her own devices to try to throttle a scene into life. Director Chris Addison never seems to know where to put the camera to set up a joke, or even a conversation.
And is it too much to ask that a film with glamorous people set on the Riviera might actually look good? The harsh, flat lighting doesn’t do anybody any favors.
A better comedy would find material for the supporting actors, like Ingrid Oliver (as Josephine’s scam partner, and possibly life partner — the movie is coy on the latter point) or Tim Blake Nelson (good luck recognizing him).
Maybe the film’s weakest point is its reluctance to paint any of its conniving characters in a genuinely negative light. It’s too soft for that — not dirty or rotten enough.
“The Hustle” (1½ stars)
In this remake of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson play the con artists fleecing unwary men on the French Riviera. The actors work way too hard at trying generate laughs (although there are a few here), and the movie never has time to breathe and enjoy its own naughtiness.
Rating: PG-13, for language, subject matter
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 1o0, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mallt