2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)
Hustlers wants desperately to be Goodfellas for women. It’s a fact-based story about a group of people who use their knowledge of a dirty profession to manipulate their customers and rise to power that has style, wall to wall music, and a career-best performance by Jennifer Lopez. The key difference between Goodfellas and Hustlers is that the former developed its supporting cast and understood that its characters were scumbags, whereas the latter can’t decide how it wants us to feel about its characters’ actions and overstays its welcome. Despite solid direction and performances, Hustlers is let down by bad pacing and inconsistent view on its characters.
In 2007, Destiny (Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians) gets a job as a stripper to support her grandmother. She is embraced and educated by the high-earning Ramona (A film-stealing Jennifer Lopez), who works the Wall Street guys, only for the 2008 economic crash to hit the club. However, Ramona offers Destiny an opportunity for quick cash: They’ll get the clientele drunk (and later drug them) so they’ll max out their credit cards. As the operation grows, they bring in Underdeveloped Supporting Characters (Keke Palmer, Lilli Reinhart, Cardi B, and others), with Destiny feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the enterprise.
Hustlers has all the pieces to party with the big boys, but can’t put them together correctly. On the positive side, Lopez and Wu give strong performances and director Lorene Scafaria makes the stripping scenes titillating without objectifying the characters. It’s also quite funny at times, and Lopez and Wu have good chemistry. Unfortunately, the setup takes far too long and the movie treats its supporting cast like Christmas ornaments. Some of the song choices are frustratingly on the nose, and the monotonous shopping and hang-out sequences stop the pacing dead rather than develop the group dynamic. However, Hustlers’ Achilles heel is its inability to decide whether it wants us to root for its characters or against them, and isn’t clever enough to do both. Despite good direction and performances, these Hustlers needed a better long con.
Rated R for Pervasive Sexual Material, Drug Content, Language, and Nudity.