Women in business: Exploited strippers turn the tables on their bosses in Hustlers

“Sex is the most fun you can have without laughing — and vice versa,” a great sage in New Mexico once told me. More on that later.

That cryptic profundity pertains to “Hustlers,” director Lorene Scafaria’s tale — “inspired by a true story” (of course), chronicled in a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler — about a band of exploited strippers who turn the tables on their exploitative Wall Street clients.

2020 is not the year but, rather, the bug-eyed vision you’ll need to savor the salacious smorgasbord of female flesh in store, from the opening dressing-room primp to their strip club’s stage with its one and only prop: the Pole.

Ramona and Destiny are polar opposites.

Reticent young Destiny (Constance Wu) is in awe of seasoned pro Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who generously shows her the ropes as well as the dopes. Their sisterhood soon embraces wildcat Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and tearful Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). The only thing they have in common is exploitation by two types of men who control their universe in the heady pre-crash days of 2008: the managers, bouncers, bartenders who rip them off, and the horny, high-rolling customers they bilk.

A deejay announces “all major credit cards accepted!” — with or without the owners’ consent.

“You want ‘em drunk enough to give you the card but sober enough to sign the check,” Ramona instructs Destiny. Eventually, she gets a better idea: Why not work together not just to use but also to abuse those cards, as well as those clients, by slipping them a Mickey during happy hour — which is 24/7.

The Sweet Smell of (Superficial) Success lasts well into Kardashian Era, as does our quartet’s lavish lifestyle — replete with penthouses and chinchilla coats — thanks to the $5,000 or so, at a crack, that they max out on their clients’ cards, aided by a dangerously magic “Elixir of Love” cocktail.

“We gotta start thinking like these Wall Street guys,” Ramona rationalizes. “The game is rigged. It doesn’t reward people who play by the rules. It’s just business — more honest than the transactions that got them rich… Everybody’s making money, everybody’s happy!”




  • Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles.
  • Rating: R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity

J-Lo has got to be happy with this juicy role — the best she’s had in ages since “Selena” (1997) and Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1998) — in which she’s gorgeous, tough as nails, and soft-heartedly empathetic all at the same time. Ms. Lopez is a much subtler, more accomplished actress than most people — especially film critics — have given credit for.

Ms. Wu (the duly praised “Crazy Rich Asians” star) is a fine foil-counterpart as the not-quite-guilt-free Destiny.

Kudos to both the script and direction of what could have degenerated into clichés. Best scene is the all-girl Christmas party in which best-bud female bonding abounds within the sisterhood’s multi-ethnic diversity. And the device of having an interviewer-writer (Julia Stiles) to bracket things works.

“When would you say things with Ramona got out of control?” she asks.

“Ramona was always in control,” Destiny replies.

Consumer warning: The language is truly raunchy from start to finish, as graphic as it gets, though the voyeuristic visuals are not.

Back to the opening quotation: The only thing funnier than one-on-one laughter is communal laughter, which is why it’s always better to see a comedy live in a big theater — the social experience it was intended to be. But I’m not so sure about “nervous laughter” — all the way through with the preview audience at the Waterfront.

“Hustlers” gives new life to softcore porn in the movie mainstream, and the marketing thereof. Before the film began, a gimmicky teaser flashed on the screen to visit a website about hustling in Pittsburgh. Upon checking it out, it was like strip clubs themselves — a letdown.

But the movie is better than the sleazy promo: fast-paced female empowerment, with magnetic J-Lo in the driver’s seat.

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris can be reached at parispg48@aol.com.

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