Hustlers (2019)
Hustlers (2019)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: September 13th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lorene Scafaria Actors: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Julia Stiles, Madeline Brewer, Mercedes Ruehl, Stormi Maya, Cardi B

 


 

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ike so many films nowadays, “Hustlers” is inspired by a true story. This one begins in 2007, as Dorothy (Constance Wu) – using the name Destiny – prepares herself for a new gig at a strip club in New York. She’s experienced in the profession, but nervous nonetheless, demonstrated by an amusing over-the-shoulder cam that traces her movements from the makeup area, across the stage, down toward the bar, and into a private dance room. As if to aid in the audience’s ability to put themselves in her place, the camera follows her various abbreviated routines throughout the night, touching upon bits of racism, uncouth customers, unfriendly coworkers, and losing a large percentage of her tips to other employees and the house. When Destiny returns home to take care of her grandmother, it becomes apparent that this tale of strippers won’t have only the glamor of “Magic Mike” – it’ll also contain the drama.

“Doesn’t money make you horny?” Once again, like in “Magic Mike,” an older, seasoned stripper (and former centerfold) named Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez) takes the newcomer under her wing to teach her the ways of convincing men to part with their money. And, initially, there’s little sympathy for the clientele; they’re unscrupulous Wall Street guys with too much loose change. Then, in a timeworn and expected – yet no less disappointing – storytelling technique, the picture jumps to 2014, where journalist Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) interviews Destiny for a magazine article. This takes place after any illegal stuff might have occurred, which automatically spoils Destiny’s end result. Clearly, she’ll make it to a safe place in 2014.

After this tease – or a scene of revealing too much of the true story – the film returns to 2007, where abusive customers can get away with zero consequences, as long as they spend enough money. Violence, humiliation, and depravity are all acceptable when the bill runs into the thousands. There’s also camaraderie and sisterhood to soften the blows of the more deplorable patrons, paired with montages of clothes shopping, high-end handbag buying, Cadillac purchases, and vacation planning. Destiny comments that in that first year, she made more money than a brain surgeon. And the glamor returns when Usher shows up to make it rain – in a sequence closely resembling a music video.

But when the 2008 financial crisis hits, the Wall Street spenders dry up. A problematic boyfriend, a child, and an attempt to get back into the standard workforce transforms Destiny into someone bitter and desperate – leading to drugs, prostitution, and getting manipulated, rather than being the one to do the manipulating. Since the story is told like a biographical account of the events in Destiny’s life that led her on a path to more extreme methods of moneymaking, it takes an unusually long time before the meat of the plot enters the frame. A lot of details are presented first, many of which aren’t that dramatic or interesting (by the end, only one of the closing revelations proves to be moving). By the time the central scheme is unveiled – in which Ramona and Destiny and fellow strippers Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) drug regulars with a cocktail of ketamine and MDMA to rack up credit card expenditures with no memories attached – a large chunk of the film has already transpired.

“Nobody gets hurt. Nobody gets hurt.” Though the victims are unsympathetic – particularly since many of them are, purportedly, the very same wealthy financiers who contributed to the 2008 chaos but emerged untouched and unpunished – and the girls feel guilty, the weight of their deeds never quite captures a sense of suspense or dread. The film doesn’t bother to place viewers in panic mode as they await the creeping justice against these perpetrators. Instead, a playful attitude accompanies the questionable endeavors, joined yet again by montages of drugging, drinking, dancing, celebrating, shopping, dressing, and outsourcing their scam. The comedy isn’t strong enough to make “Hustlers” notably witty, while the crime drama isn’t potent enough to make for a riveting watch.

Ultimately, this particular transgression (poetic justice or otherwise) isn’t powerful enough to warrant a feature film. In the same way that “Molly’s Game” (and, to a lesser degree, “The Bling Ring”) boasted a crime that had minimal gravity, “Hustlers” isn’t cinematic enough or larger-than-life enough to translate excitingly onto the big screen. This is reenforced by the closing intertitles, which spell out the sentences and the obvious insincerity with which the case was handled. It’s miles away from the Bonnie and Clyde or “Ocean’s Eleven” type of crime capers that often frequent theaters. But despite the lack of entertainment value in the offenses themselves, the cast is sharply selected and the actresses turn in convincing performances. It’s just a shame that the story wasn’t livelier, funnier, or more gut-wrenching – or all of those attributes combined.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10