Designer clothes and designer drugs fill the screen in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, inspired by a true story adapted from a New York magazine article. Focusing on a group of strippers who must figure out creative ways to make money after the 2008 financial crisis, this is a crime saga that often feels like a Mob movie trading tailored suits for Juicy Couture and exotic heels. There are dramatic drawbacks and a lack of character depth in the director’s screenplay. It also features a dynamite performance from Jennifer Lopez and a pounding music score that renders this mostly gratifying.
Constance Wu is Destiny, who’s just nabbed a gig at NYC strip club Moves. She’s a novice in her new trade, but life perks up when she falls under the mentorship of fellow dancer Ramona (Lopez). They form a strong bond (Ramona is a mother figure that Destiny never had) and are a financial force among the Wall Street types that frequent the establishment. This turns out short-lived as the bottom drops out of the economy within a few months.
Destiny leaves the business and has a child from an unhealthy relationship. A lack of income brings her back to Ramona. However, the dollars aren’t rolling in like they used and Ramona is singularly focused on ways to keep the coffers filled. That’s when the duo enlist fellow employees Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and the weak stomached Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). The quartet takes on scores away from Moves and it involves drugging deep pocketed gentlemen and running up those black cards.
Hustlers is told in flashback as a journalist (Julia Stiles) interviews Destiny, who’s conflicted and guilt ridden about her actions. That trait does not apply to Ramona as she feels little sympathy for their marks. The picture is filled with energy when Lopez is onscreen, even if the script shies away from what motivates her (beyond the obvious monetary considerations). Destiny’s story and Wu’s portrayal is less captivating.
It is rather refreshing to watch something that has a Scorsese influence, but filled with much different looking glamorous law breakers. There’s no traditional score in Hustlers as the soundtrack is turned up loudly with primarily pop and hip hip hits from 2007 to 2014. A woozy sequence set to Scott Walker’s late 60s track “Next” turns out to be the musical highlight. We also hear a lot of Janet Jackson, who Lopez herself used to dance for. Other than some occasionally effective bits extolling the virtues of this odd family, don’t look for too much substance here other than the ones up a patron’s nose or mixed in their drink. Yet this is undeniably a pleasurable experience while it lasts.
*** (out of four)