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Hustle (June 12/05)

It's hard not to wonder just what Steve Shagan was thinking when he wrote Hustle, an incoherent, exceedingly dull, and hopelessly pointless cop drama. Featuring several needless subplots and an egregiously overlong running time, Hustle plays like nothing more than a vanity project for star Burt Reynolds.

The film casts Reynolds as Phil Gaines, a bitter detective whose latest case involves the circumstances surrounding the death of a local stripper. Said stripper's father (played by Ben Johnson) is conducting an investigation of his own, and it's clear that he's not going to stop until he discovers just what happened to his daughter. Meanwhile, Gaines must contend with the fact that his prostitute girlfriend (Catherine Deneuve) may have a client who had something to do with the death.

Right off the bat, Hustle strikes all the wrong notes with a sequence in which the deceased girl's father arrives at the station house to identify the body. Gaines and his partner (played by Paul Winfield) treat the man with disdain and contempt for no apparent reason (perhaps this is meant to convey to the viewer that these guys are really, really grizzled and jaded). The film is likewise peppered with several instances of odd, inconsistent behavior from the various characters - something that's especially true of Reynolds' Phil Gaines.

While there's no denying that Reynolds is quite charismatic in the role, the actor delivers a thoroughly lazy performance; he spends the entire film practically winking at the camera, and consequently winds up with a character that's not believable or even interesting in the slightest (ie it's fairly obvious Reynolds showed up on the set without having done an ounce of research into what being a cop is really like). This is despite a surfeit of sequences in which Gaines and his girlfriend engage in "character-developing" conversations, though the majority of their discussions are devoted to entirely inane and useless subjects like the pros and cons of a trip to Rome (this is actually a recurring topic among the two).

Then there's the meandering storyline, which isn't much better. It's clear that the film's entire opening hour could've been condensed into about five minutes without losing a thing, as it consists mostly of sequence after sequence of Gaines chatting with various characters - an interminable choice that's exacerbated by the fact that Shagan's dialogue is far from superlative. The bottom line is that there's never a moment in Hustle where we get the impression that any of this is leading up to something significant (or intriguing, even), and there's a reason the film remains an obscure piece of trivia from Reynolds' oeuvre.

out of

About the DVD: Though the disc doesn't include any bonus features, Paramount Pictures presents Hustle with a surprisingly crisp letterboxed transfer.
© David Nusair