The deeply dishonest flaws in J.Lo’s new movie
Director Lorene Scafaria
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart
Running time 110 minutes
Verdict Sex, drugs and pole dancing
J.Lo hustles like a pro in this glossy account of the rise and fall of a high-class escort. But it's moviegoers who turn out to be the unsuspecting mark.
It's easy to buy the 50-year-old Latina actress as a hard-headed opportunist who employs her feminine super-wiles to relieve an army of Wall Street bankers of a good portion of their ill-gotten gains. And she clearly put a lot of work into the steamy pole dancing routine - there's a YouTube video to prove it.
The knee hook, tabletop, Peter Pan and martini should NOT be attempted without close supervision.
As a seasoned stage performer, J.Lo also knows exactly how to rock a skimpy showgirl costume.
All of which goes some way to explaining the Oscar buzz surrounding the actor-singer-dancer's star turn in this all-woman crime dramedy based on real events.
But there's something deeply dishonest about Hustlers' cynical spin on the Robin Hood myth, in which a bunch of strippers drug their wealthy clients in order to fleece them of large amounts of cash.
It's alluded to in the film's one-line synopsis, which describes the women as turning "the tables on their Wall Street clients".
There seems to be an underlying assumption, here, that these men deserve the treatment they are subjected to - partly because they frequent strips in the first place, and partly because of their capitalist cowboy profession.
Just as troublesome is the corresponding suggestion that the straightforward business relationship between stripper and client is illegitimate, or that the women themselves are victims.
This directly contradicts Hustlers' opening scenes at Moves, a club in downtown Manhattan, where a stripper named Destiny (Constance Wu) - a green but self-determining employee - is struggling to make an impression.
Mesmerised, like the rest of the crowd, by Ramona's (Jennifer Lopez) showstopping pole-dance, she asks the club's star performer for a few tips.
The pair quickly become firm friends and private performance partners - cinematographer Todd Banhazi shoots these erotic sequences against a warm, low-lit backdrop - and the money starts rolling in. But when the sex industry becomes one of the immediate casualties of the 2008 financial crisis, the women must improvise in order to make ends meet.
Hustlers is an impressive showcase for J.Lo and a bunch of fresh new talent. But it's hard to shake the feeling that the actors, like their characters, are simply playing dress-ups.
A good example is the early rooftop scene in which Ramona, who is enjoying a post-performance cigarette, invites the scantily clad Destiny to curl up between her legs, wrapping them both in her enormous fur coat.
This isn't an exchange between two characters, but a scene played out entirely for the camera, and one that is keenly aware of its own sex appeal.