Watching the trailer for “Hustlers” gives an impression about a female-centric con-job style film with lots of stripping and quick pacing. Most of the marketing efforts has been around selling that kind of tone and it being the type of female-helmed cast not seen since Oceans 8. Well if there’s a con job, it’s that it’s not a movie about the hustle itself, but about the women who came together to come up with the plan and pull it off.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Ramona, an experienced and high-earning stripper at an upscale New York club. Constance Wu plays newcomer Destiny, who Ramona takes under her wing and helps her learn how to work her clients to get the most return on her efforts. Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, and Lizzo are some of the others also inhabiting the perpetual night world of the club. The women bond together to work the stage together and introduce each other to regular clients. It’s the world of pre-financial crash New York, and money flowed like an unlimited river. Then when 2008’s crash hits, the money all but dries up, and the Ramona comes up with a plan to find marks in bars, drug them and take them to the club and run up a massive tab. When their victims find out what’s happened, Ramona tells them they had a fabulous time, and surprised they can’t remember it, and they go on their way.
Based on the New York magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores,” Julia Stiles plays reporter Elizabeth who is interviewing an older and wiser Destiny about her life and how the whole thing came falling down around their heads.
Lopez delivers one of her best performances of her career, and Wu very nearly matches her fierce determination. Where the movie doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise is that it’s not a quick paced romp. It’s a somber and heartfelt look into a group of women and their relationships with each other as they struggle to keep ahead of the game where the deck is almost always stacked against them.
The main cast aren’t played as shorthand for people, they play as if they’re people with a past, a present that extends beyond the walls of the club, and their hopes for a future. But there’s many quiet moments, and the bulk of the titillating scenes are played out early in the film, then takes a distant back seat.
There’s the cinematic fantasy of the club as well in that there’s no club that looks or operates quite like that, or where the dancers all look to that level on a single shift unless it’s a special event (and then you won’t have random walk-ins happening off the street without a queue).
While you won’t get what you expected, there’s actually a lot to unpack in the performances and how they relate to each other and approach their challenges. If you’re down for that ride, you’ll enjoy it, if you’re just in it for T&A and a sharp con job, you might be better off jump cutting between “Striptease” and “Ocean’s 12.”
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
“Hustlers” is currently playing in theaters now.