HUSTLERS – Review by Lana Wilson-Combs

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Hustlers, the new movie from writer/director Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler) made a splashy debut at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

The film, which is based on Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine article The Hustlers at Scores, is a sexy, revenge thriller that chronicles the lives of female strippers at a posh Gentlemen’s club in New York City and how they band together and turn the tables on their wealthy Wall Street clients.

In Hustlers, Jennifer Lopez delivers a tour de force performance that could erase any memory of her critically panned 2003 movie Gigli.

Seriously. It’s time to stop hating on Lopez. The former “Fly Girl” is “Super Fly” in Hustlers as Ramona Vega, a gorgeous, marquee stripper whose steamy pole dancing moves like “The Fireman,” “The Peter Pan” and “The Martini,” keeps hordes of horny men drooling and throwing their cash on stage.

And it’s all about the Benjamins for Ramona. She completely understands the business aspect of her hustle.

She even tells her fellow strippers, Mercedes (KeKe Palmer, Scream: The TV Series), Diamond (Cardi B), Liz (Lizzo), Annabelle (Lili Reinhart, TV’s Riverdale) and newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians) that one year she made more money than a brain surgeon.

Ramona has all the trappings to show for her hard work. There’s the tony pad, designer handbags and shoes, fur coats and plenty of bling along with the luxury of being able to give her young daughter an even better life than hers.

Although Mercedes, Diamond, Liz and Annabelle are making a comfortable living stripping, Destiny is so new to the game, that she needs help at building her clientele, not to mention her weak pole dancing. Plus, she needs money to care for her ailing grandmother (Wai Ching Ho, Daredevil).

By the time the greedy club managers get their cut, Destiny barely has enough to take care of herself.

So, Ramona takes Destiny under her wing and teaches her a few tricks of the trade, notably, how to work the men in the champagne room. Ramona and Destiny soon develop a special bond of sisterhood that pays off for both in a big way.

Hustlers loses much of its steam when it reverts to flashbacks and fast forward scenes with Destiny being interviewed by journalist Jessica Pressler. She’s played here by Julia Stiles (TV’s Riviera).

The movie regains its footing when the 2008 financial crisis hits and knocks the women for a loop. Suddenly, the high rollers, aren’t rolling anymore and the club is left high and dry.

The women’s lavish lifestyles start to lose much their luster too, until Ramona comes up with a plan to drug their old clients with a concoction that makes them feel great but causes them to forget everything.

That means, the women can steal their cash, credit cards and anything else they have on them of value.

It works like a charm and suddenly the hustlers are really hustling. This time everyone is living large much to the chagrin of the guys who don’t know what hit them when they come around.

Of course, this ruse doesn’t last forever and when the cops and Feds get involved, Ramona and her crew, are busted big time.

Director and writer Lorene Scafaria don’t glamorize the women’s plight here. They’re flawed for sure and their greed stems from years of being exploited at every turn. And as Ramona says, these Wall Street wolves have been hustling people in a much bigger way then they ever could and have gotten away with it.

You may or may not sympathize with these hustling women, but Lopez sure sizzles and sells the seedy and salacious Hustle. It’s worth paying for.

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Lana Wilson-Combs

Lana Wilson-Combs has more than 20 years experience as a journalist. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Radio/Television, but began her career as a sports writer in the Bay Area at the Oakland Post newspaper before becoming a movie critic and entertainment writer. She is the founder of and on-air movie critic for KFBK Radio Station in Sacramento, California where she currently resides.