A deep bow or a curtsy, if you please, for the late Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning, two legends of comedy writing of the late ’50s and early ’60s. One was an Oscar winner for “Pillow Talk,” the other came up with “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
But the piece of their legacy that holds up the best just might be 1964’s dueling con men comedy, “Bedtime Story,” with which starred Marlon Brando and David Niven, and led fun Steve Martin/Michael Caine remake “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” of 1988.
And here it is, again, titled “The Hustle” and pairing up con artists of the fairer sex, comic force of nature Rebel Wilson and Oscar winner Anne Hathaway.
Damned if it doesn’t work about as well as it ever has; the French Riviera opulence, the casinos and villas and conspicuous consumption, the rich marks grifted by the posh sophisticate and rival bumpkin bull in the china shop.
Yes, this remake is old fashioned, and maybe the “mark” (Alex Sharp of “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”) is a tad green and less interesting. But sometimes, it’s fun watching two wildly different stars mix it up in sumptuous settings, and seemingly have a ball doing it.
The Aussie Wilson is Penny Rust, plump and poker-faced and a gifted small-timer, hustling hustlers for some time scores with hard luck stories and cracking wise about…breasts.
“Basically, if her t–s were batteries, they’d go into a watch.” No, mate, what you want is “the full bouncy house.”
An impulse sends her to Beaumont Sur Mer in the South of France, where the idle rich idle away the days in the casino, unless they get hustled the more old-fashioned way. It is the hunting ground of the lithe damsel Josephine (Hathaway), a sophisticated con artist whose cons have bought her a seaside villa. So naturally she pulls out all the stops to keep Ms. Low Rent from moving onto her turf.
Penny figures this out the hard way, but imposes herself on her would-be sensei.
“Teach me your sugar baby ways!”
The secret, Josephine says, agreeing to this all too quickly, is that “No man will ever believe a woman is smarter than he is.”
They trot out “The Lord of the Rings Play,” which involves the familiar (recycled from “Bedtime Story” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) “royal” luring a rich guy, and springing her madwoman sister on him just as they’re about to set a wedding date.
Wilson, if her career has taught us nothing else, cannot be topped in mugging and hamming like a crazy inbred from the lesser nobility of Europe.
Hathaway makes a fun contrast — pretentious, cunning, but vamping her way through the improvs each throws at the other as they make up lies and cons on the spot in front of each new mark, forcing each other to sling Aussie (Hathaway) or South African (Wilson) accents.
The main mark — a tech mogul — may be out of his depth, but we’re treated to some dazzling bit turns by little known character actors as other targets of female ripoff empowerment — Dean Norris, Casper Christiansen and Douggie McMeekin stand out.
Welsh actor-turned-director Chris Addison (TV’s “Veep”) keeps the camera close and the pace just brisk enough in this jaunty, jolly picture, whose tone is set by cutesie ’60s style animated opening credits. The slapstick isn’t up there with the Best of Blake Edwards (keeping to that ’60s yardstick), but it’s often as funny as PG-13 allows.
So perhaps this will be best appreciated by an older audience, much as “Detective Pikachu” isn’t really for anybody over the age of seven. “Hustle” won’t be raunchy enough for the Seth Rogen set.
Hathaway finds her laughs losing her beautiful, rigid stick-up-her-bum dignity, and Wilson finds hers riffing. Josephine’s probably gay police inspector accomplice (Ingrid Oliver) becomes “Captain Pantsuit,” a Danish posh becomes “Nazi Gollum” and ordering off the menu requires special instructions for the waiter.
It probably got re-edited, with some cast members listed in earlier versions of its credits not turning up in the finished cut. The rewrite of the screenplay takes a back seat to Wilson’s on-set riffing.
But who cares how they got there, as long as this plot’s very funny bones are intact?
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual content and language
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver
Credits: Directed by Chris Addison, script by Jac Schaeffer and Dale Launer, based on the 1964 film “Bedtime Story” by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning. An MGM release.
Running time: 1:34