To paraphrase Michelle Obama, Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson never worries about going low where others go high.
But her latest same-same comedy, con artist caper The Hustle, co-starring Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, is not just low but hits rock bottom.
A trashy rehash of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which pitted a Golden Globe-nominated Michael Caine against Steve Martin (and was itself a do-over of 1964’s Bedtime Story with Marlon Brando versus David Niven) The Hustle is all the more grim when compared to current ripper political rom com Long Shot.
Directed by Jonathan Levine from a script by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling, Long Shot is a smart, sexy and genuinely funny look at the race for US President, with Charlize Theron as Secretary of State Charlotte Field taking a tilt at 2020.
Enlisting independent journalist Fred Flarsky (a lovable Seth Rogen) as her speechwriter.
Turns out she babysat him as a kid, and while he likes to get loose she admires his ethics in ditching a reporter’s job to protest against a takeover by Andy Serkis’s Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul.
Charlotte’s political fire is relit and pretty soon her romantic one is too, on Air Force One.
Far from stuffy, Long Shot cuts through the spin with a big heart, even getting away with an eye-opening masturbation gag because at its core the characters respect each other’s ambitions.
Charlotte and Fred bring out the best in each other despite her team preferring to pair her off with Alexander Skarsgård’s boring Canadian PM.
They may seem an odd couple, but laser-like comic delivery by Theron and Rogen hits every target.
It’s something that can’t be said about The Hustle.
Wilson plays small-time crook Penny, whose appearance on the French Riviera riles a ridiculously plummy British-accented Hathaway’s posh swindler Josephine.
Competing over the same unwitting marks, they set their sights on Alex Sharp’s nerdy but nice millionaire tech entrepreneur Thomas, but you won’t care who wins.
With zero comic chemistry between them, there’s not a funny joke to be had beyond a bin bag dress visual gag that was already wasted in the trailer.
Wilson may have spun a small role in Bridesmaids into a successful Hollywood career off the back of popular sing-a-long franchise Pitch Perfect, but her limited range is beginning to grate.
Her constant trading in a loud-mouthed, swearing, horny, prat-falling Aussie stereotype doesn’t help update the gross classist heart of The Hustle the movie as Josephine judges her every move.
Already past its sell-by date, the remake also beats a groan-worthy ableist ‘joke’ that sees Penny fake being blind to win over Thomas.
Adapted by Jac Schaeffer, currently working on the screenplay for Australian director Cate Shortland’s Black Widow movie, The Hustle feels laboriously long at 90 minutes, flubbing even the dumbest beats. Which is nuts, given DGA and Primetime Emmy-winning director Chris Addison has serious comedy smarts.
He starred as conniving political aide Oliver in Armando Iannucci’s razor-sharp British satire The Thick of It then went on to direct multiple hilarious episodes of Iannucci’s follow-up Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
It remains to be seen if audiences will flock to the Hathaway/Wilson combo, but Long Shot managing to rake in a respectable $800,000 in Australia in the immediate wake of Avengers: Endgame proves comedy doesn’t have to scrape the barrel to be popular.
Rebel Wilson should take note.