by Kyle Arango
Jennifer Lopez surprised the hell out of me last year. The trailer for Second Act which came out in December 2018 looked horrendous and the movie, much to my surprise, was very enjoyable. She had been on a streak of terrible films for a while, but it appears she fixed something. Now, Hustlers is getting a ton of attention for possible awards contention, can she continue her positive run and warrant the awards consideration? Surprisingly enough, she can. Hustlers is an enthralling and captivating experience that tells a story we have seen before but puts a new flavor to it. While it may not be able to sustain that momentum, it is still a worthwhile experience.
Hustlers tells the true story about a New York city stripper named Destiny, (Constance Wu) who has fallen on hard times in her business and is struggling to make ends meet. When she befriends a fellow stripper named Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), things start to look up for Destiny. Unfortunately, things don’t stay that way, so Ramona and Destiny begin to do more illegal things to continue the lifestyle they are used to. We have seen these Wall Street stories before. Someone finds a way to maneuver or cheat the system in order to make an excessive amount of money only to eventually get caught for their crimes. Hustlers is no different, but this time we are not following rich pricks in suits, the focus is on the strippers who seek to get that money these wealthy men possess. There is nothing in this film that is going to surprise you. What keeps this film from being like the rest of the Wall Street films, is its unique direction.
Hustlers is directed by Lorene Scafaria who only has two feature films to her name, but nothing significant. This film is going to change all of that. Lorene took this film by the throat and said, “we do this my way”. She brings a personal flavor to this story that grabs the audience and keeps them wanting more and more. She blends popular songs and certain sequences to give you more of a kick as to what is occurring. Her focus is on making these despicable characters as likable as possible and she fully succeeds. What does not work, however, is the pacing of this film. Hustlers hits the ground running in its story about how these two met and the things they delve into. With every strip tease and lap dance to lure guys to them, you are locked in. Then you realize you are just watching the same thing over and over again and by the end, the film loses its steam. The audience understands how they steal money, it doesn’t have to be shown multiple times. This leads to the film not being able to stick the landing with at least three separate occasions where it feels like we are ending the film, and then it keeps going. This leads to the first half of the film being far superior to the second.
While the film may have some pacing problems, the performances from its cast are stellar. There has been Oscar buzz around Jennifer Lopez’s performance and honestly I would not be against it. She is the engine of this film that keeps it going. Her story was the more compelling of the main two and Lopez is the reason why. Whenever she is offscreen you are wondering where she is at and anticipating her return. She crushes it and a supporting actress nod is not out of the question. Constance Wu is also solid, I just have a hard time with her recent offscreen behavior. She is a great actress who could be America’s sweetheart if she plays her cards right. The rest of the supporting cast rounds it out nicely, but Lili Reinhart really stood out to me. She makes the jump from television to film flawlessly here and never gets lost in the shuffle. Her character has a habit of getting nauseous and it is a hilarious bit they come back to.
So, while Hustlers doesn’t quite stick the landing, I had a damn good time watching it and highly recommend it. Jennifer Lopez gives her best performance in over a decade by being a captivating presence. Lorene Scafaria shows massive potential in this film and Cardi B is actually decent in her limited screen time. This is one of the better wall street movies I have seen since 2013.
The Verdict: 4/5 Stars