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REVIEW: "Hustlers"

By Eric Hillis,

originally published: 09/24/2019

REVIEW: "Hustlers"

Bob Fosse and Martin Scorsese have a lot to answer for. American filmmakers now seem incapable of telling a true crime story without aping the templates established in Fosse’s Star 80 and Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers (let’s take some comfort from the resistance to titling it ‘Hu$tler$’), based on a 2015 New York magazine article about sociopathic strippers, ticks all the boxes you expect it might. Fake talking head interviews? Check. Extended tracking shots through nightclubs? Check. It’s a Wonderful Life style freeze frames? Check. Voiceover narration delivered over slo-mo sequences? Check. Top 40 soundtrack? Check.

Interviewed by a journalist (Julia Stiles), Dorothy aka Destiny (Constance Wu) relates her story of how she takes a job at a New York strip club ‘Moves’ in 2007. Initially struggling to bring in a reasonable weekly wage, Destiny is taken under the wing of veteran stripper and Moves headliner Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who shows her the ropes and the moves and explains how to extract the maximum amount of cash from the suckers who frequent the club. Soon Destiny is living the good life. She’s paid off her grandmother’s debts and is giving her young daughter a comfortable upbringing.

But then the crash of 2008 happens. With Moves relying so heavily on Wall Street for its clientele, the club takes a heavy financial hit and the strippers are forced to perform sexual favours in the VIP room if they want to make money. Ramona comes up with the idea of ‘fishing’, which involves the girls heading to Manhattan’s poshest bars, chatting up unsuspecting brokers, drugging their drinks and stealing their cash and credit cards. The scam seems foolproof, as the mix of MDMA and ketamine leaves their victims with no memory of what happened, and even if they did, they’d likely be too embarrassed to inform the authorities.

REVIEW: "Hustlers"

“Drain the clock, not the cock,” is a piece of advice Ramona gives to Destiny, instructing her young charge on how to keep the punters in the VIP room for as long as possible without giving them any real satisfaction. It’s a philosophy the film itself seems to have adopted. The running time is stretched out by repeating the same sequences ad nauseum, and by the eleventh shopping montage I was beginning to wish someone had slipped a ketamine/MDMA cocktail into my coffee so I didn’t have to endure Hustlers’ interminable catalogue of capitalist cruelty.

The trouble with Hustlers is that while the strippers’ victims are chiefly a collection of stereotypical stockmarket scuzzballs, the strippers aren’t any better themselves. Any initial notions that Ramona, Destiny and co. are enacting some Robin Hood quest is quickly dispelled as they spend their ill-gotten gains on a never-ending supply of handbags, shoes and coats made from dead animals. I get the sense the film wants us to root for this insufferable gang of Kardashian wannabes, but Scafaria’s direction is so flat and lifeless that it’s difficult to figure out how she wants us to view her protagonists. There are moments played for comedy, complete with reaction shots of a dog, but the grimness of the anti-heroes’ actions and the haphazard staging of such sequences suck any potential humour out of the scenario.

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Similarly, it’s never really made clear how we’re meant to view Dorothy/Destiny, and neither the film nor Wu’s confused performance get a handle on who she is. From scene to scene her persona seems to waver between a naive waif with a conscience and a ruthless gold-digger. Of the strippers, only Lopez embodies the rugged toughness you imagine their real life counterparts must have possessed to pull off this scam. Much like Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete, Lopez is playing a character whose personality isn’t exactly a million miles away from her own. It’s well documented that J-Lo is fond of a fiver, and the actress channels her own ruthless determination into Ramona. She’s positively chilling at times. In one scene she turns nasty on Destiny, commanding her to hang up the phone on a man who lost his mortgage thanks to their scam, and it’s the one moment in the whole film that hints at a more interesting, character focussed take on this story.

Ultimately, we’re left feeling that this story is one that’s incompatible with modern mainstream American filmmaking, whose puritanical nature is never going to delve into the sleaziness of its scenario. The movie leaves us with the notion that “America is one big strip club” as food for thought, but the question you’ll more likely find yourself asking is why multi-millionaires would be so keen to spend their time at a strip club where the strippers don’t even take their clothes off?

Hustlers  2 Stars Out Of 5

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria;  Starring: Constance Wu,  Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles,  Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B, Madeline Brewer

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Event calendar
Saturday, Oct 19, 2019


MELVIN SEALS & JGB FEATURING JOHN KADLECIK @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

THE BILSBY BROTHERS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

Reock & Roll Revue | A Tribute to Chicago II @ The Millstone Performing Arts Center, Millstone - 7:30pm

Eaglemania @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Last Whispers @ Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair - 8:00pm

RICK SPRINGFIELD & RICHARD MARX @ The Wellmont Theater, Montclair - 7:00pm

KIP MOORE: ROOM TO SPARE ACOUSTIC TOUR @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm

American Song -Disney and the Boys: Will and Anthony Nunziata sing the Sherman Brothers @ The Chase Room @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 6:00pm and 8:30pm

Soulshine: An Allman Brothers Experience @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 8:00pm

TOTO @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Floyd Pink @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm

Annie Sing-Along! @ Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College, West Windsor Township - 10:00am


East Lynne Theater Company presents POE BY CANDLELIGHT @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

Monster Princess Tales @ West Hudson Arts & Theatre Co, Kearny - 3:00pm

House on Haunted Hill (World Premiere) @ Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood - 4:00pm and 7:30pm

Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz @ Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn - 1:30pm and 8:00pm

Theater of Fear @ The Mill Race Theatrical Company, Mount Holly - 1:30pm and 7:30pm

Our Town @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 8:00pm

The Late Christopher Bean continues at WCP @ Westfield Community Players, Westfield - 8:00pm


Get Happy! Hollywood Hits from Harold Arlen @ The Avenel Performing Arts Center, Avenel - 8:00pm

Comedian Kevin Downey Jr @ Brook Arts Center, Bound Brook - 8:00pm

THE JIM BREUER RESIDENCY @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Jo Koy @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 8:00pm


Nimbus Dance: 15th Anniversary Crystal Gala 2019 @ Harborside Atrium, Jersey City - 7:00pm



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