CREDIT: Barbara Nitke/STX

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B, Madeline Brewer, Lizzo

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Incidental and Purposeful Strip Club Nudity, A Few Roofies and Cocaine Bumps, and Some Crimes-Gone-Wrong Chaos

Release Date: September 13, 2019

There’s a scene early in Hustlers when Jennifer Lopez masterfully, with almost arrogant panache, swings around the pole to the tune of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” and it looks like this is going to be the distaff answer to Magic Mike. For too long, cinematic lady stripping has focused merely on the exploitative, and now it is time to treat it like an art form! J. Lo’s command of physics and her own body at 50 years old is indeed a breathtaking wonder to behold, but this is merely the amuse-bouche. Soon enough, Hustlers develops into an epic crime drama, a sort of female spin on Goodfellas. It only spans a few years versus the decades of Scorcese’s gangster classic, but it doesn’t take too long for the relationships at the heart of this scam to become deeper and deeper and more and more complicated.

Calling a new movie “the female (previous movie)” is usually frustratingly reductive, but in this case, the comparison can be unusually illuminating. I recently read a Time article that cited political science research about the differences between the typical reasons men and women get into politics. Where men tend to do so for the status of the position, women tend to run so that they can effect social change. While watching Hustlers, I wondered if the same rubric could be applied to explain the different rationales why men and women enter into a life of crime. So many cinematic male gangsters and fraudsters (Henry Hill chief among them) become what they become because of how cool it seems. But Constance Wu’s Dorothy and Lopez’s Ramona come up with their scam so that they can take of their kids, parents, grandparents, and sisters at the club.

The scheme at the center of Hustlers involves Ramona, Dorothy, and their colleagues luring their Wall Street customers into a blacked-out trap, drugging them enough that they’re willing to drop tens of thousands of dollars in one night at a strip club (but not so much that they fall asleep or OD). They justify their actions by figuring that these guys can afford to have a few g’s go missing. Plus, in light of the 2000s financial crisis, they’re essentially guilty of stealing from the rest of the country and getting away with it. The trouble comes when it becomes clear that some of the girls’ marks are not as invincible as they try to rationalize, and they’re in fact putting them in the same economic bind that they’ve been fighting themselves to get out of. The sisterhood that’s built by the Hustlers scam is full of genuine love, and that’s why it’s so bittersweet when the bubble is burst. If you’re looking for a story that epitomizes doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, this is the best option in quite some time.

P.S.: There’s a running gag in which Lili Reinhart vomits in high-pressure situations, and it never fails to deliver.

Hustlers is Recommended If You Like: Goodfellas, Magic Mike, Thelma & Louise, Economic Revenge

Grade: 4 out of 5 Scores