The Based On A True Story “Hustlers” Is Not Recommended For Anyone With A Heart Defect. Just Call It 2019’s “ShowGirls”, That It’s So Bad You Just Need To Keep Watching The Train Wreck. Produced By Will Ferrell, & Starring An Oscar Nominated Worthy, Show-Stopping 50 Year Old Jennifer Lopez. JLO Lights The Screen On Fire & Will Make Your Jaw Drop, While Constance Wu Is Completely Miscast & Comes Off Looking Bored. If You Thought The Men Were Hustled Out Of Their Money, Wait Until You Buy A Ticket To “Hustlers”. You’ll Know Exactly How They Felt.
The last time we got an all female led cast and a female writer/director, it was this summers under appreciated “The Kitchen”. A gritty 70’s crime story that failed to find an audience and received unfair bashing from critics. Here we are only a mere months later with “Hustlers”, another period piece crime film, with an all female cast and female writer/director. I only wished the outcomes were reversed and “Hustlers” received the fate “The Kitchen” did, as “The Kitchen” is a far better production.
A few years ago audiences were hooked by Channing Tatum’s “Magic Mike” (which was a great movie), only to discover it wasn’t just two hours of half-naked men. It was a movie that director Steven Soderbergh (“Oceans 11”) wanted to actually be about something. The big draw for director Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” has been similar, with promises of Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Cardi B, and Lizzo splayed out on stage half-naked, spinning on the stripper pole. If that’s what you came to “Hustlers” for (which most men probably did), then you’ll get exactly what you paid to see and i can confirm that, it’s all as sexy as the trailers make it seem to be. However, “Hustlers” wants to be about so much more, and unlike “Magic Mike” it doesn’t succeed in doing so.
“Hustlers” is based on true story that was publicized in a 2015 New York magazine article titled “The Hustlers At Scores”, written by Jessica Pressler (whose name has been changed for the film). The story begins in 2007 as our main character Destiny (Constance Wu), a new dancer at the luxurious Manhattan strip club called Moves, based on the real strip club Scores (which I’m guessing had its name changed to avoid legal repercussions). Destiny’s got it rough; she’s not fitting in with the other girls, she’s still a newcomer at dancing on stage, and she’s not making enough money to help pay her ailing grandmother’s bills.
Destiny becomes mesmerized when she sees the legendary Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) commanding the stage with power and grace. Ramona is covered in money at the end of the performance and receives a standing ovation from the crowd. Destiny finds Ramona on the roof of the club, cloaked in a fur coat and perched like a queen. Ramona invites Destiny to get warm and immediately takes the new girl under her wing.
From time to time we flash forward a half-dozen years, with a journalist played by Julia Stiles who is interviewing Destiny, as the recollections provide the set-up for the flashback sequences. A few years later, after the 2008 financial crisis, Destiny is a single, unemployed mother of a toddler and Ramona is working at Old Navy.
That’s when Ramona hatches a plan in which they’ll reach out to their richest clients from back in the day, invite them (one at a time) to meet for a drink, where the girls lace their drinks with a knockout concoction, and run their tabs up in the thousands. When the guy later sees that massive charge to his account, what can he really do? Tell his wife? Call the police and admit he went to a strip club? It’s becomes the perfect crime. Until…well it’s not. Very predictably we know mistakes will be made, loyalties will shatter, and reporters and cops will get wind of stories and accusations that their personal and company cards were fleeced of more than $100,000.
Directed by Lorene Scafaria, whose previous two theatrical features, “The Meddler” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and produced by actor Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay (“Vice”, “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights”). Scafaria’s film isn’t entirely invested in delivering real-world concerns. She makes it more of a strippers seek revenge saga bathed in neon and a glittery cinematic style. Scafaria wastes no time in drenching the film in well placed pop classics such as “Night Moves” by Bob Seger, “Rag Doll” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, a Britney Spears track and giving us two Janet Jackson tracks including “Miss You Much” to start and end the film. Not to say that “Hustlers” isn’t without a few elements that dazzle, but overall the production fails to rise.
In a big transition from tv’s “Fresh Off The Boat” and the box office sensation “Crazy Rich Asians”. Constance Wu receives top billing over Jennifer Lopez, that’s huge and big congratulations to her. Unfortunately she feels very miscast here, out of place and frankly looks very bored. She never really breaks free of her initial image of being the boring character and yet she’s the one who is our conflicted lead character of the film.
However “Hustlers” becomes an exhilarating delivery system for one of Jennifer Lopez’s most dynamic film performances. Jennifer Lopez is getting a well deserved Oscar nomination talk for her fierce and foul mouthed and screen commanding work as Ramona, and after years of being stuck in romantic comedies, it’s indeed her strongest performance in decades. Jennifer Lopez has always been a true superstar, a multi-talented one at that, and director Scafaria knows how to show off her world famous bum as well as her assets in dramatic acting. If you were wondering whether J-Lo’s still got it, she without question does. I don’t think it ever really left, she is a natural and a real magnet to the camera, and when her character Ramona is seducing or scheming, the film’s got your attention.
What started out as a loving but gets increasingly complicated big sister and little sister dynamic between Ramona and Destiny is the most important relationship in the story. While Lopez and Wu play off each other terrifically, having Ramona immediately taking Destiny under her wing as she teaches her everything she needs to know, about dancing and life in general feels rushed and underdeveloped.
The best scenes aren’t just everyone Lopez is in but the scenes where there is a strong sense of a backstage sisterhood at the club. Hearing the dancers engaging in frank and funny talk about their sex lives or supporting one another through the latest drama is the film’s best and realest sequences.
The only cast member who can actually claim firsthand knowledge of the business is rapper Cardi B, who was an ex stripper. Cardi looks incredible in her stage outfit but is only relegated to a few early scenes and then shuffled offstage for the remainder of the film. When she is on tho she owns the screen, and exudes early-career Rosie Perez through her tone of voice and dialogue energy.
Cinematographer Todd Banhazi (Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer”) cannily interweaves the neon fantasy of the strip club and the magazine spread in Ramona’s upscale Manhattan apartment with a real naturalist light.
Two of “Hustlers” biggest mistakes is it’s repetitiveness including a lot and I mean a lot of scenes involving the girls raking in the money and celebrating, having the time of their lives. The other is trying to make the audience fall in love with the strippers, as Ramona tries to justify her plan for revenge by taking money from wealthy Wall Street men who helped destroy the economy during the financial crisis and spend it on expensive purses, fur coats and shoes. Unfortunately, Ramona’s dangerous quest for equality is never challenged by the writing, with “Hustlers” electing to instead make time for an absurd amount of slo-mo shots and celebratory scenes from the scam. Scafaria, and her leading ladies, fail to flesh out characters engaging enough to make us root for them. Not that we’re necessarily rooting for the sweaty Wall Street creepers who get fleeced, but there is just nobody to root for here.
Like the victims of these “Hustlers”, I felt hustled out of my money toward my movie ticket. “Hustlers” is 2019’s “Showgirls” and like “Showgirls” it’s a train wreck you just can’t help but keep watching. If it weren’t for Jennifer Lopez commanding the screen in skimpy outfits and looking jaw droppingly stunning at 50 years old (please note: if you have a heart defect, you’ve been warned), “Hustlers” would’ve been a complete waste and would’ve been the box office disappointment that “The Kitchen” shouldn’t have been.
GRADE: ★★☆☆☆(2 out of 5)