MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Crime Drama/ Stars: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B, Mercedes Ruehl, Trace Lysette, Usher, Mette Towley, Madeline Brewer, Stormi Maya, Frank Whaley/ Runtime: 110 minutes
For my first new review in about 5 months I would love to ask you dear reader a question: “Who doesn’t love a good crime story?” Indeed, due to the sheer volume in terms of just how many great cinematic tales of debauchery, larceny, and honor (or dishonor) among thieves exist, is it really any wonder that the genre has become one of the most pervasive and popular around? Of course it should also be mentioned that the drawback to this popularity is the sad reality that anyone daring to try and add their mark to this particular cinematic world seriously needs to bring something new to the film table if they even want a chance in Heck at having their film stand out if not judged fairly by both critic and fan alike.
Now by the looks of it, you’d think that writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers might not be the film to do that. This of course can be put on an initial marketing campaign that makes the film look like this is simply just using a time-honored formula combined with some stock female empowerment material. Thankfully I can say upon seeing the finished product however that the marketing is not close to just how surprisingly enjoyable this film truly is. Indeed with a deck of powerhouse performances, headed by a personal best from Miss Jennifer Lopez, plus a refreshing twist on the familiar arc that this genre comes saddled with, Hustlers truly is a fun, albeit flawed, look at when transforming the old into something new actually goes remarkably well.
The plot is as follows: Based on a real-life incident, Hustlers focuses on Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and Dorothy aka Destiny (Constance Wu), two strippers who have a quasi-surrogate mother/daughter relationship after a chance meeting as colleagues at the same New York City club. Indeed, while the two find themselves able to live high and mighty by feeding the lust-fueled wishes of the wealthy clientele their club services through their incredibly effective seduction techniques, it isn’t long before reality comes a’calling courtesy of the financial crash of 2008. A crisis which results in not only the disappearance of the Wall Street stiffs that made their lives so heavenly, but also some serious economic hardship, thus leading them to concoct a bold idea, laced with the usual mistresses of drugs, alcohol, and larceny at its finest in order to recover their little slice of Heaven, and in the process land Ramona, Dorothy, and their family of co-workers back into the lives that they feel truly belong to them. Of course it goes without saying that in a situation like this the good times truly can only last so long….
Now it isn’t a spoiler to point out that the true crime film lover will be able to see DNA from such films as GoodFellas in every frame of Hustlers from a mile away. This may be due to the fact that director Lorene Scafaria decides to take the film’s sprawling, non-linear narrative and mold it with an inspired soundtrack plus a use of voice-over that is strongly reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster opus. Indeed while this is not the worst thing this movie could do, it still does leave the door open up for the audience to compare and contrast between this film and the films of Scorsese that clearly inspired it.
Ultimately, what aids this film more than a lot of other things is that, despite the inevitable comparisons, this film still is an incredibly welcome update that the crime genre so badly needs. Yes, to be fair with you dear reader, the film does have a few story beats in it that I promise you will feel derivative. At the same time though, the characters, with particular regard to the leads, that Miss Scafaria has chosen to showcase with her interpretation of the genre formula are vastly different in that instead of acting purely from a place of greed, as so many of Scorsese’s subjects from Henry Hill to Jordan Belfort are, these characters are simply just trying to fill emotional voids in their lives.
Thus it is with that HUGE difference in mind that we see this is where Hustlers truly shines because Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu do their absolute darndest to wring the material for what it’s worth and in the process give 2 terrific performances starting with J-Lo. Indeed this film marks a particularly spectacular return to form for her. This is not only because she brings her A-game to Ramona’s multi-faceted personality, but also because she is given a character arc that really uses her acting abilities to the fullest potential possible. Make no mistake: Constance Wu may be the star of the movie, and J-Lo may be a co-star in this, but this is easily the best work she has done in the past decade and definitely one of the biggest highlights of this film. That’s not to say Wu doesn’t do a good job; to the contrary in fact. Indeed Wu actually manages to match the level of brilliant that Lopez puts on display, and in the process gives us a chance to see what happens when 2 brilliant actresses are able to interact and work off one another with such an ease and skill that it’s not hard to see how they are so easily able to captivate both their marks in the film and movie-goers in the real world.
Truth be told however, the entire roster of Hustlers’ acting lineup leave everything, right down to the kitchen sink, out on the field, and it’s a true blessing to see such committed professionals at work. However, this also leads to the biggest problem the film has when it comes to operating within the Scorsese-esque crime drama formula. This is the fact that this film, at 10 minutes shy of 2 hours, just isn’t long enough to truly capitalize on the unique film-going rhythm that this story brand usually employs. Nowhere is this more obvious than the fact that this film not only possess a build-up which feels a bit too slow when compared to the conclusion, but also is in possession of an ending that just rushes along just a little too quickly for my tastes. Also of note is that, although some of the characters have little moments or things that distinguish them just enough, we see that, besides Ramona and Dorothy, no one else really gets a chance to shine and be built as a fuller character due to the story’s frantic and quick pace. I mean when you have a film that boasts an incredible female ensemble featuring Lizzo, Cardi B, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhart, and you’re left wanting a lot more of their presence that’s not a sign your film is terrible; it’s just the fact that somewhere out there should be a longer cut of this very same movie which gives these terrific supporting performances the proper amount of time to shine that they justifiably deserve.
At the end of the day though, Hustlers decides to take a lot of gutsy moves in its noble attempt to update the tried-and-true model of the crime film genre, and with that in mind, it is mostly successful thanks in huge amounts to a compelling story and a terrific cast to help keep things lively and entertaining yet by film’s end you will still feel a desire to get more out of this film than is offered up to you at this time. On a scale of 1-5 I give Hustlers a 3.5 out of 5