(director/writer: Lorene Scafaria; screenwriter: New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler; cinematographer: Todd Banhazl; editor: Kayla Emter; music: Jason Markey; cast: Constance Wu (Dorothy, a.k.a. Destiny), Jennifer Lopez (Ramona), Julia Stiles (Elizabeth), Cardi B (Diamond), Mette Towley (Justice), Lizzo (Liz), Keke Palmer (Mercedes), Madeline Brewer (Dawn), Steven Boyer (Doug), Frank Whaley (Reese), Mercedes Ruehl (Mother), Jon Glaser (Mark), Lili Reinhart (Annabelle), Wi Ching Ho (Destiny’s Grandmother), Gerald Earl Gillum (Johnny), Trace Lysette (Tracey), Ed Herbstman (Architect); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Elbaum, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Benny Medina, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Lorene Scafaria; STXfilms; 2019)
“Tame expose drama about America likened to a strip club.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Inspired by a true story of strippers scamming wealthy Wall Street stockbroker scammers, this female-empowerment genre film shows how after each crooked group is caught for their crimes they both receive little punishment– either no jail time (for the Wall Street crowd) or merely slaps on the wrist (for the stripper-prostitutes).
Director/writer Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler”) sends an anti-capitalism message in this conventionally told tame expose drama about America likened to a strip club–as its star Jennifer Lopez decries that “This whole country’s a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money and people doing the dance.”
Hustlers is based on the lengthy 2015 New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler.
It’s 2007 and we follow how in good economic times a group of strippers in NYC work at their trade, with each lady playing one of the characters in the ‘zine story. The film’s Asian-American heroine Dorothy becomes stripper Destiny (Constance Wu), wishing to earn big money to help her granny (Wi Ching Ho) by working in a NYC strip club. After paying off bribes to the club big shots, Destiny finds the money is well-earned for the hard work and abuse she takes from her creepy one-dimensional men customers. To the rescue comes her mentor and club headliner, the sexy exotic dancer Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who makes a notable grand entrance by pole-dancing to Fiona Apple’s Criminal and dances with thrown money piling up on the stage. Ramona is depicted as someone always in control, who tells Destiny “Drain the clock, not the cock.” She takes the new stripper under her wings to show her how to play the stripper game to her advantage.
When the recession hits in 2008, after the Wall Street scandal, the clubs find business is bad. Under Ramona’s leadership Destiny and the strippers (Keke Palmer & Lili Reinhart) quit the club and form their own business organization to go “fishing” for customers outside the strip club. This is an exercise to bait, drug and steal money from the credit cards of their sexual gratification seeking mostly Wall Street clients.
“Hustlers” humanizes the women with warm backstories and showing them cling together as family. It takes their side for the most part, as it tries to distinguish the hard-working strippers from prostitutes. It finally concludes that the men vics only got what they probably deserved for ripping off the country with their shady business deals. Though not excusing these hurt parties from scamming those who hurt others, it lets us know that following such a vicious cycle of bad behavior without breaking the cycle will only mean more scandals down this dirty road of greed, material excess and corruption.
Julia Stiles plays the earnest magazine investigative journalist Elizabeth, who portrays the real Jessica Pressler. The journalist latches onto the scam story after the four strippers are arrested in a sting. The framework of the pic is built around Destiny then opening up to the journalist about her stripper sisters’ misdeeds and thereby hoping to escape jail time by telling all and copping a plea deal.
The film has dazzle and enough intelligent insights to add to all the booty shaking, but its slick presentation lacks the emotional depth to convince this viewer it has enough of a story to tell us that the capitalist system is dead without making me feel slightly nauseous.
In any case, J-Lo gives a better performance than usual–carrying this party-ride of a film with a seemingly natural performance even when it stumbles.
REVIEWED ON 9/14/2019 GRADE: B-