Hustlers is Engaging, Funny, and Has All The Right Moves (Movie Review)

Tales of con artists have always been a better fit for my taste in the crime genre, over mobsters. My preference for Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money over his beloved Goodfellas will surprise no one who knows me. To my delight, Lorene Scafaria’s new film, Hustlers, about Manhattan strippers taking as much as they can from Wall Street clients, is one of the most entertaining films of the year.

One of the strongest aspects of any kind of con flick is the “know-how.” The Color of Money is one such example. We have the trope of beginning with young Vincent (a pitch-perfect Tom Cruise) being lured into the high stakes world of billiards by veteran Fast Eddie Felson ( an Oscar-winning performance by Paul Newman). The hook for the audience is seeing how Vincent, Eddie, and Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) lure would-be suckers in. They go from town to town, finding the right haunts to exploit their talent.

If there’s any justice at next year’s Oscars, Jennifer Lopez will at least get a nomination. I doubt it, but hey, we have a great movie either way. Like Matthew McConaughey as the fearless ringleader in Magic Mike, Lopez shines like never before as Ramona, the mother hen to this group women. Hustlers is about how attraction and seduction took many men for thousands of dollars in a single night. Make it rain, Lizzo!

Back to the know-how. Constance Wu is ‘Destiny’ a former stripper from 2007 – right before the market crashed in 2008 – who learns from the master Ramona how confidence is Queen. A brief introduction to the world of strip clubs includes an endless parade of charming, and just plain awesome dancers (like Cardi B, Keke Palmer and later, Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart).

The real know-how comes later in early smartphone era of the 2010s, which gave way to easy credit card fleecing. Okay, it’s not THAT easy, you still have to drug the client, and hope they don’t OD. Y’know, the basics.

Based on a magazine article by Jessica Pressley (played in the film by Julia Stiles), the story concerns how a small group of women made a ton of money. However, unlike the pretentions of most mob flicks, Hustlers goes out of its way to keep us entertained and liking these (unabashed) criminals. This is usually one of my issues with mob flicks, where most filmmakers give us deplorable men who are also rarely interesting. (Like the terribly cartoonish role that won Joe Pesci an Oscar in Goodfellas.)

The cast here is strong and, better yet, relatable. Wu shines in Crazy Rich Asians, and although she’s saddled with a less exciting role than Lopez, it’s still a grounded performance. Sweet moments abound between her, her grandma (Wai Ching Ho), and her child. Both illuminate the light on the light and dark side of such a Destiny. (Spoiler alert: she’s not at all the best mom.)

Lili Reinhardt also leaves an impression as Annabelle the best comedic vomiter ever. Still, Lopez is the one that leaves her mark. Her opening dance number to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” is a blast. She’s found her best character to dive into since Karen Sisco in Steven Soderberg’s Out of Sight.

What’s most surprising about Hustlers is how the story of women who are exploited by (mostly) white, rich men could easily delve into a kind of victimhood angle but rarely does. Wu and Lopez own their actions. They don’t blame society, or at the very least they know the American Dream is a rigged game, so best not to linger on such things. Better to find a side hustle and get those bills stacking. Whatever the case, Hustlers is a winner.




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