“The Hustle”: Doesn’t A Female Version Of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” Miss The Point?

Hollywood’s eagerness to address the industry’s gender imbalance has resulted in female-centric remakes/spin-offs of previously male-led casts (Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8) but its latest effort – The Hustle (a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) – could, in its rush to swap men for women – be missing the point completely.

The Hustle - Anne Hathaway / Rebel Wilson

The Hustle, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, is a female-led remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The film, directed by first-timer Chris Addison, continues a Hollywood trend to remake previously successful movies with their male protagonists swapped for females.

This saw comedy classic Ghostbusters remade with an all-female ghost-busting team in the shape of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. It received a lukewarm reaction from critics and audiences.

The Hustle may end up being a far better film than Ghostbusters but the gender-swap remake reminds us of Hollywood’s lazy belief that changing a character’s sex is now considered an attempt at originality.

But that’s not the real problem with remaking Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (a remake itself of the 1964 film Bedtime Story) with women. That’s because, while Frank Oz’s brilliant comedy about con men played by Steve Martin and Michael Caine battling each other to rip-off a rich American girl was ostensibly about a pair of sparring male egos, the joke was on them. The 1988 film might have been fronted by two male leads, but it was the woman who had the last laugh (the twist being she was in control all along).

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Steve Martin / Michael Caine

Steve Martin and Michael Caine meet for the first time in Dirty Rotten Tomatoes

The new film will inevitably have to change the film’s twist – that while the two con men believed they were in charge of the swindle, they were being played against each other by a clever con woman. The Hustle will have to take this into consideration before replaying the twist ending with its gender-swap roles because, instead of being liberating for women, will actually lose the effectiveness of its strong female character. If the story plays out similarly, the hapless protagonists will be women with the male character boasting the upper hand throughout.

Of course, I’m sure writer Jac Schaeffer will ensure there’s a new twist up the film’s sleeve to ensure it empowers its female characters but it’s once again infuriating to see Hollywood creating strong roles for women that are constructed from old ground and the swapping of the sexes. Surely there was a con-style script doing the rounds in Hollywood that could have been fronted by two women. Like Ghostbusters, taking a film that was known for its male characters and making them female is now seemingly more important than the content.

The Hustle in in UK cinemas on May 10 2019.

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Rory Fish has loved movies since he can remember. If he was to put together an "all time" top 10 of absolute favourites it would have to include North By Northwest, 12 Angry Men and Sunset Boulevard.

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