Of the many, many films that have been made about stripping and prostitution, one of the least remarkable is 2019's Hustlers. Really more of a vehicle designed to flatter Jennifer Lopez’s vanity than the unvarnished revelation on American strip clubs it pretends to be, Hustlers has gloss worthy of an old MGM musical with none of the ingenuity.
The story is told in flashback by Destiny (Constance Wu) to a reporter (Julia Stiles). Based loosely on a true story about strippers at a New York club who took to drugging and fleecing some of their clients, we watch as innocent young Destiny gradually goes from stripping in order to support her grandmother to being forced to adopt less scrupulous practices in the declining U.S. economy. Through it all is her mentor, Ramona (Lopez), whom we’re introduced to pole dancing in a sling bikini.
Fifty year old Jennifer Lopez looks amazing in ways no real fifty year old stripper can dream of, the fruit of Lopez’s maintenance being, of course, the real point of the scene if not the whole film. Naturally, none of the film’s stars sees it necessary to actually strip, such duties relegated to the riff-raff extras.
Ramona guides wide-eyed Destiny through the tricks of the trade in lapdance scenes shot like run of the mill music videos. Ramona is beautiful, Ramona is wise, and above all, Ramona is badder than Destiny, her genius devising the scheme that makes them infamous; pretending to be average girls excited by a guy at a bar before taking him back to the club or, later, their homes, drugging him, and plundering him. This concept could’ve been developed into a good crime film but the lack of artistic commitment hampers the production on every level. Lopez and Wu don’t really play characters so much as types. A scene at the end, meant to be profound, shows Lopez observing that “The world is a strip club.” May as well say the world is a Burger King for all Ramona or the film do to substantiate this claim.
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