Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

To warm you up for “The Hustle,” here’s my review of the original.

“The Hustle,” starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, comes to theaters this Friday, and I wanted to share with you my opinion of the original 1988 comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

This remake of the Marlon Brando/David Niven movie “Bedtime Story” is directed by Frank Oz, and was written by Dale Launer and the two original screenplay writers Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning. Oz guides this movie with a sense of humor and style, even if he has to follow a few cliches.

Steve Martin and Michael Caine star as two conmen, Freddy and Lawrence, who meet on a train en route to Zuric. One is a wealthy British man who pretends his grandmother is ill, and the other is an American posing as a prince trying to free his “enslaved people.”

Their story begins when Lawrence gets Freddy out of jail, after being caught in his latest hustle, and Freddy wants Lawrence to show him the ropes of being a professional conman. How to dress, how to act, and how to play the game-your basic lessons.

They start off having Freddy play Lawrence’s disabled brother Ruprecht in order to scare way the women he’s conned out of. This is hilarious in the ways Martin has to be a creepy goof, and how Caine keeps his cool by constantly reminding him to be a good boy. I just loved how he says: “Ruprecht.”

I guess it’s an unwritten rule (in the words of Roger Ebert) that most student-teacher movies have to make the student the smart Alec here. That’s why they make a bet that if they can extract $50,000 from a young heiress (the late Glenne Headly), one of them has to leave. That’s when they play each other’s game.

Freddy has to be a paralyzed Navy vet, while Lawrence has to portray a famous doctor. That has to provide us formulaic moments, including a scene when Lawrence smacks Freddy’s legs with a stick in order to break his character.

Despite its formula attitude,”Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is fun, thanks to the delightful and energetic performances from Steve Martin and Michael Caine. They’re two mismatched characters, based on their traits and attitudes, and they work wonders. And you get some fine supporting work from Headly, who adds an old-fashioned spark to her character, while being caught in a love triangle.

Frank Oz keeps these talents in check, and no matter how many times, we have seen these types of scenes and writing, you just keep on watching. It won’t steal your time or money; so no refunds or exchanges.

I’m not sure how “The Hustle” will play, but I doubt it will top this version.


Categories: comedy, Crime, Remake

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