In Brief: A movie about ladies of the night hustling wealthier men is — itself — a hustle.
Hustlers is based on a true story and is gleaned from a New York magazine article on a group of ladies of the night. Just after the recession of 2008 and into 2013, the group stalked Wall Street bars and strip clubs looking for wealthy johns to bilk. They’d find a guy, slip him a date rape drug, and other substances and when he was pretty much helpless, they’d rack up huge bills — drinks, dances, sex, etc. — on his credit card or credit cards.
The film stars Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Jennifer Lopez. Both actresses and their costars are very, very good. In fact, this is the best acting I’ve seen from Lopez. She finally gets a chance at a role that is deeper than being a main character is a romantic comedy or a dumb drama.
Lopez is very good at being very bad. Her character, Ramona is drop-dead gorgeous and angelic looking but inside she has a dark, self-absorbed heart. It’s a very good, and very believable performance.
The problem Lopez and her also very good costars encounter is a pretty basic story that contains about an hour of interesting material. The other 49-minutes is fluff and padding. The article shows these women as greedy souls with almost no conscience. Hustlers endeavors to give them a heart that doesn’t exist.
The article was written by Jessica Pressler. It has an edge and shows women who feel no remorse for their crimes. The film gives Wu’s character a conscience that she didn’t possess. It feels as phony as the scam perpetrated upon the victims.
That’s surprising because Hustlers is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. She did one of my all-time favorite nobody-heard-of-or-saw-it movies Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. By the way, if you can find it, it stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and is really terrific. Scafaria also did The Meddler, a wonderful art house hit that starred Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons.
It’s too bad with their limited release, more people didn’t get a chance to see those movies.
Hustlers is wide-release and it will attract more viewers than all of Scafaria’s other films combined. I love her writing and storytelling skills, and while Scafaria gets exceptional performances out of this most excellent cast, her movie is one is a huge disappointment.
Once you leave the theater and are scratching your head and wondering why this film is getting such a good buzz, see if you can find Seeking a Friend for the End of the World or The Meddler on whatever web-based movie sites you use.
They will not disappoint.
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Stars: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Styles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, Madeline Brewer
Rated R for mature themes, nudity, drug use, sex and language. Great acting dots a landscape that just doesn’t have enough of a story to fill 1:49. This one looked fun but just didn’t quite get there. Give it a 2 1/2 out of 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.