Anne Hathaway detonates a megaton blast of pure unfunniness in this terrifying film. She leaves behind a mushroom cloud of anti-humour, reducing every laugh possibility to grey-white ash in a postapocalyptic landscape of horror and despair. If J Robert Oppenheimer had witnessed this, he might have staggered out of the cinema auditorium, subjected the foyer to his stricken thousand-yard stare, and murmured that Hathaway had become Death of Comedy, the destroyer of gags.
The Hustle is a gender-switch reboot of the Riviera caper Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), which starred Michael Caine as a smooth Brit swindling rich suckers in the south of France, and Steve Martin as his rackety American rival-slash-partner. Now it’s Hathaway playing Josephine, the scam maestro with the couture outfits and the supposedly posh “English” accent. (Surely she will be finally unmasked as American, and there will be a point to how annoyingly fake that voice is? Surely?) And Rebel Wilson does her level best as Penny, the wisecracking underdog grifter who shows up on Josephine’s Riviera turf, making it clear to this entitled princess of confidence trickery that she wants a slice of the action, too.
At least jokes make sense coming out of Wilson’s mouth; at least they sound and feel like jokes, even if the script is never much more than ropey. But Hathaway is rigid, inert and gets about as many laughs here as she did doing that song in Les Misérables with her teeth falling out. We’re dreaming a dream of non-hilarity, although, to be entirely fair, the screenwriters aren’t helping her with material about how to pronounce the word “Phuket”.
The incredible thing is that the film has many talented people who are entirely wasted. Director Chris Addison has worked with Armando Iannucci on TV’s The Thick of It and Veep and high-calibre performers such as Rebekah Staton and Rob Delaney are similarly thrown away. But what can they do with this script?
•This article was amended on 10 May 2019 to correct the name of Rebel Wilson’s character.