The Hustle

The Hustle, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson as high and low-pedigree conwomen fleecing rich old men at the French Rivera, is a minor swindle.

You might already know the point-by-point trajectory of the premise; actually, for those born more than three decades back — or for those born an additional two decades before — the story will seem more than a bit familiar. It’s a strange déjà vu, really.

The Hustle is a remake of the near-classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, which itself was a make of Bedtime Story (1964), with Marlon Brando and David Niven foreshadowing Martin and Caine.

The Hustle, a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with actresses in the title roles, is fun but just a minor swindle. Meanwhile, Luc Besson’s Anna is flashy and entertaining but ultimately ho-hum

This time round, Hathaway and Wilson step into Caine’s and Martin’s shoes, respectively. The shoes are a size too big, but the actresses slog through with enough comedic panache to make the size work in their favour. Both are near-excellent, but not as contrast-y as the last pair. The routines, and the story turns are nearly the same as well (it is an official remake, so no harm here, really).

Some bits and pieces of the old-screenplays are updated for relevancy (the girls’ target a sweet, Zuckerberg-ish tech millionaire). The mish-mash may evoke a seen-it-all-before groan from time to time but, overall, it’s a fine, uncomplicated farce — especially at a time when one hardly gets to see subtle, comfy, escapist comedies. As I said before, a minor swindle, really.

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson step into Caine’s and Martin’s shoes, respectively. The shoes are a size too big, but the actresses slog  through with enough comedic panache to make the size work in their favour. Both are near-excellent, but not as contrast-y as the last pair.

Anna

In Anna, Luc Besson’s return to the premise that made him an international superstar director, a physically-abused young woman (Anna, played by Sasha Luss) is trained by the KGB to carry out assassinations. Not born to be a sociopath, Anna doesn’t like killing people, irrespective of her deadly skill-set. Like the genie in Aladdin (or the assassin women in the Hong Kong actioner Naked Weapon), she yearns to be free from her shackles.

If you are aware of Luc Besson’s filmography (Le Femme Nikita, the film’s spiritual predecessor, The Professional and Lucy), you’ll know that the heroine always comes out on top — the warped nature of coming out on top being debatable.

As usual, Besson is quite happy dolling up the heroine and story. The plot deliberately takes its time setting up a sequence, then jumps back in time to verify the plot-twist.

When the film opens Anna, a sweet innocent girl-next-door packing groceries, is scouted as a model. Two cuts later, she is a bona fide model in the high-stakes fashion industry. Moving from shoots to shoots, she is propositioned by an arms dealer, who was actually her target in the first place.

The plot continues swiveling as Besson sets up or reveals story twists. They are entertaining to look forward to. The execution, however, is trite (though not as far as the technicalities of filmmaking are concerned).

His cast — Helen Mirren, Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy — are fine; but then again, his actors always do their job well, no matter how ludicrous the roles may seem a few years later.

Who knows, like his previous films, the narrative will start growing on us (as in Wasabi and The Messenger). For now, though, it’s not much more than a diverting ho-hum.

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 30th, 2019