Hustlers Movie Review
After 20 years, Jennifer Lopez has finally made a good movie. Hustlers, a rocking, tunes-fueled crime drama about strippers who drug and steal from Wall Street stockbrokers following the 2008 market crash, is an energetic dose of titillation, even if it’s more of a tease than it wants to admit.
While J-Lo may steal the show (and lots of money) as experienced dancer Ramona, Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) is actually the main protagonist, a suspiciously “innocent” stripper-turned-criminal through which the story is told. Wu isn’t the most convincing stripper in the world, nor would I say is quite the right fit for the story at hand, but she holds her own.
Lopez, however, is getting Oscar buzz, because apparently looking fantastic at age 50 and starring in something that isn’t awful--something that has somehow eluded her for at least two decades--is enough to get people chattering. While Lopez isn’t nearly as sensational as early critics made her out to be--the material’s fault, not hers--she gives it her all and energizes every scene she’s in.
The real start of the show, however, is writer/director Lorene Scafaria, the woman behind the criminally overlooked and underseen comedy The Meddler. Hustlers pulses with inherent charisma and attitude, Scafaria’s playful use of music and song a refreshing burst of directorial might. Her cast clearly had fun making the movie, and it appears Scafaria, editor Kayla Emter, and the music department had even more fun in post-production.
Every time a new song kicked in, especially when utilized as an on-the-nose stab at what was happening onscreen, Hustlers jolts forward, making it hard not to smile. The movie also boasts some very intermittent but well-timed jokes, something the film probably could have benefited from more (IMDB lists it as a comedy, but it doesn’t play like a comedy).
What holds Hustlers back some is the story, or at least the execution of the story. As fantastic and as fun as much of the movie is, it never amounts to as much as you’d think or expect. In that regard, it’s a striptease, a beautiful, flashy, sexy dance but without nearly as much substance--or payoff--as first appears. Scafaria doesn’t quite get you bought into Ramona’s bitter vision of the world, her anger, which makes the somewhat innocuous third act a bit of a letdown. And for a moment I thought Hustlers was going to pivot into something fresh and the unexpected, but instead it goes the way you’d, unfortunately, expect.
Hustlers thrives off a pulsing soundtrack and spirited direction by Lorene Scafaria. If you strip back the pretty exteriors, however, you’re left with a story that isn’t quite as powerful or engaging as it could have been. Still, Hustlers is a fun, female-powered dance that’s worth checking out.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.