Who knew that a movie as light and airy as Frank Oz’s 1988 con-artist comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” would also be durable enough to make a sharply funny remake in “The Hustle”?
Before the “they ruined my childhood” brigade starts slavering for blood, it’s a good time to remind everyone that the 31-year gap between the first movie and the remake is longer than the 24-year gap between “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and the movie it was remaking, 1964’s “Bedtime Story,” with David Niven and Marlon Brando in the roles Michael Caine and Steve Martin so nicely filled.
In New York, small-time con artist Penny (Rebel Wilson) runs a reliable scam involving shallow guys, a dating app, and an appeal for breast-enlargement surgery. It works enough that she’s thinking she needs to get out America, and the French Riviera looks like an appealing place to find rich men to swindle.
Too bad somebody already has that territory staked out. That’s Josephine (Anne Hathaway), who runs ambitious, high-class and high-dollar-value scams on the marks at the casino, with help from her butler Albert (Nicholas Woodeson) and the financially pliable police inspector, Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver).
Josephine tries to bully Penny out of town, then kill her with kindness. When neither approach works, they make a wager to compete for one mark, to take him for $500,000. The target they agree to is Thomas Westerberg (Alex Sharp), a socially awkward tech billionaire. The competing efforts to seduce Thomas and get his money are wickedly hilarious, nicely shepherded by Emmy-winning “Veep” director Chris Addison, making a smooth feature-film debut.
Of course, comedy is subjective, and whether you find “The Hustle” funny will depend on how much you enjoy Wilson’s brassiness, particularly when paired with Hathaway’s ice-princess poise. For me, it works, in part because Wilson is fearless in pursuit of a laugh, and because Hathaway clearly relishes every line screenwriter Jan Schaeffer (“Captain Marvel”) has given her. (The movie also gives screenplay credit to “Bedtime Story” writers Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning, and to “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” adapter Dale Launer.)
Together, Hathaway and Wilson make a surprisingly good comic team. Hathaway helps rein in Wilson’s cruder impulses, and Wilson gives Hathaway a smart dose of spontaneity. Together, they make “The Hustle” a remake that does its original (or originals) proud.
Opens Friday, May 10, at theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content and language. Running time: 94 minutes.