October 20, 2019

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J-Lo dominates screen in Hustlers

Singer-actress shines in otherwise underwhelming film

Barbara Nitke / STX Films</p><p>Lili Reinhart (from left), Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Constance Wu star in Hustlers. The film is mostly a true story, based on a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler about a gang of strippers who took the game of extracting money from their customers to felonious extremes.</p>

BLOOMBERG STX FILMS

Barbara Nitke / STX Films

Lili Reinhart (from left), Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Constance Wu star in Hustlers. The film is mostly a true story, based on a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler about a gang of strippers who took the game of extracting money from their customers to felonious extremes.

Jennifer Lopez shows she’s still got the moves.

But this decidedly ain’t Shall We Dance.

Hustlers is mostly a true story, based on a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler about a gang of strippers who took the game of extracting money from their customers to felonious extremes.

It has a satisfying gender equilibrium to it. The strip club in movies is an oft-utilized background where cops and/or robbers can engage in some expository dialogue as semi-nude women distractingly gyrate in the background.

Jennifer Lopez shows she’s still got the moves.

But this decidedly ain’t Shall We Dance.

Hustlers is mostly a true story, based on a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler about a gang of strippers who took the game of extracting money from their customers to felonious extremes.

MOVIE REVIEW

Click to Expand

Hustlers

Starring Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez

● Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne

● 14A ● 110 minutes

★★1/2 out of five

It has a satisfying gender equilibrium to it. The strip club in movies is an oft-utilized background where cops and/or robbers can engage in some expository dialogue as semi-nude women distractingly gyrate in the background.

Here, those women are front and centre, engaging in a scheme to fleece customers of their cash beyond the make-it-rain displays of small denominations. Here, the men usually in the foreground become the suckers in the background.

The central character is Destiny (Constance Wu), a woman from a troubled background — her mother abandoned her to the care of her grandmother years earlier. Smart but damaged, she finds life difficult, struggling to make money even in the potentially lucrative field of stripping in a Manhattan nightclub in the mid-2000s, when the clubs were frequented by Wall Street sharks with insatiable appetites and wads of cash.

Jennifer Lopez (left) and Constance Wu in "Hustlers." (STXfilms/IMDb/TNS)

TRIBUNE MEDIA TNS

Jennifer Lopez (left) and Constance Wu in "Hustlers." (STXfilms/IMDb/TNS)

That changes when Destiny is taken under the wing of queen bee stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). The wing image is damn near literal in a scene in which Destiny goes onto the club’s roof for a smoke break and Ramona enfolds the novice in her voluminous fur coat. Possessed of a unique erotic ping, it’s a terrific scene that sets the stage for a relationship that never quite materializes; the first of a series of disappointments. But it makes a point: unlike the catty, back-stabbing relationships seen in movies such as Showgirls, the women here are co-operative.

Other voices:

If you want to see J-Lo in her best role in 21 years, since she dallied with George Clooney in Out of Sight, you’ve come to the right naughty place.

— Peter Howell, Toronto Star

If you want to see J-Lo in her best role in 21 years, since she dallied with George Clooney in Out of Sight, you’ve come to the right naughty place.

— Peter Howell, Toronto Star

The movie seems to view any examination of its characters’ motives, their working conditions or the consequences of their actions as a kind of betrayal.

— A.O. Scott, New York Times

In this raunchy, gloriously liberated revenge fantasy, Lopez rules with seductive, triumphant authority. Not only do we climb into her fur, we’ll happily follow her anywhere.

— Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Beneath all the chinchilla and body glitter, there’s a smart, beating heart.

— Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

There is nobody to root for here, an issue that leads to checking one’s watch midway through the show.

— Sara Stewart, New York Post

Without treading into over-sentimentality or, worse, hollow signalling to the most well-trod tropes of female friendship on screen, Hustlers takes a more organic view of the mercurial intimacies between its lead women.

— Sarah-Tai Black, Globe and Mail

In short order, Destiny and Ramona become a team.

But the financial debacle of 2008 happens. Destiny finds herself a single mother working retail. In an attempt to venture back into the strip club, she reconnects with Ramona, who is working the club with a whole new scheme. She and a few select other women bring men into the club, get them drunk and plunder their credit cards. And because the men who get fleeced are the guys who caused the crisis in the first place, it’s easy to get onside with the women, up to the point where Destiny and Ramona devise a combination of MDMA and ketamine to roofie their marks into happy oblivion.

The movie does share one quality with Shall We Dance: Jennifer Lopez tends to blow everybody else off the screen.

The movie does share one quality with Shall We Dance: Jennifer Lopez tends to blow everybody else off the screen. As a hardened dance instructor in that 2004 Winnipeg-lensed drama, Lopez was the only actor to generate any gritty verisimilitude, easily outshining Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.

She’s dynamite here too. If this was a Martin Scorsese movie (and it reportedly almost was), Lopez reflects the Joe Pesci dynamic of a character who can’t help but take things too far, the kind of character you can’t take your eyes off.

You can’t say the same about Wu, who displays none of Lopez’s joy of performance.

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, the film isn’t as lean as it should be. The scam plays out redundantly, again and again. A lot of time is taken up by a framing device in which journalist Pressler (her screen proxy is a wryly funny Julia Stiles) puts the story together.

Goodfellas was a movie based on the writings of reporter Nicholas Pileggi, but neither he nor Scorsese thought to put Pileggi in the movie.

You might think the film would maximize the talent of Cardi B, who was herself a stripper before hitting it big as a rapper. Her participation in the film, and that of rising star Lizzo, amounts to little more than a guest cameo. One senses an opportunity lost here — one of many.

If you must go, go for J-Lo.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

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