This based-on-a-true-story crime drama from Lorene Scafaria aims for funny, glitzy and steamy but more often ends up cynical and sleazy.
Drawn from a magazine article by Jessica Pressler (which helped convict the real women involved), this was obviously a passion project for Jennifer Lopez, who helped produce, co-stars and is a strong presence onscreen – but ultimately it’s all about as sexy as a hangover.
The narrative bounces around as we meet former New-York-based stripper, sorry, dancer Dorothy (Constance Wu), who relates her story to a journalist named Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), an apparent stand-in for Jessica. Seven years earlier, and under the name Destiny, she had worked at the club Moves to help support her frail grandmother, but despite a lot of commitment to pole-dancing and lap-dancing she simply wasn’t making enough cash.
When she met Ramona Vega (Lopez), Dorothy/Destiny knew she wanted to be like her, and why not? Ramona is introduced in an absurdly starry fashion, as Jennifer flies around the stage while a bunch of leering extras throw mountains of money at her, and Dorothy naturally approaches her for mentorship in the ways of erotic dancing and exploiting the ghastly guys who come in every night.
After Dorothy is forced to stop dancing and the GFC happens, she later returns to find the industry changed, the club less packed and the gross guys not as willing to part with the big bucks. She and Ramona reunite and hit upon a plan to go “fishing”, meaning that they pick some rich idiot outside the club, spike his drink, take him to Moves and, when he’s out cold, drain his credit card. They team up with Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer, a pal of Jennifer’s) and turn it into a real, albeit criminal, business, and things get so profitable they even decide to expand and outsource (!).
Scafaria’s highest-profile pic so far, this is also her least appealing, and makes her previous, somewhat flawed pics (The Meddler, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World) appear wonderful by comparison. It also never fails to look tawdry, perhaps even slimy, although the script tries to conceal this with some feeble psychoanalysis of its protagonists (“Hurt people hurt people”) and the suggestion that what we’re watching is some kind of feminist drama – unconvincingly.
Hustlers (MA) is in cinemas now