A film about misrepresentations naturally opens with a lengthy scene of Christian Bale's character sculpting the toupee/comb-over extravaganza that covers his balding head. But he's just the first of the shape-shifting players we meet in David O. Russell's entertaining but glib roundelay of scams, dreams, sex and wide lapels, set in New York City, in 1978.
We met Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) while he's running a loan scam with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two are busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper); to avoid prosecution, they agree to help him set up some bigger fish. Once the game is underway, the operation grows to include Rosenfeld's wife (Jennifer Lawrence), a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner), Congressmen and the mafia.
A who's-zooming-who tale is always fun, though this one goes on too long and suffers from multiple voice-overs that come and go. The film has some awesome star power, and some fun performances, but that is often another of its distractions: I felt like I was watching well-known actors simply reprise popular roles (Louis C.K.'s shlub, Adams' cunning pixie, an unsurprising cameo as a mobster).
"Some of this is true," the opening title states. For you old heads, Abscam is name-checked and some elements of the film have their origins in that real-life sting/investigation. But prior knowledge isn't necessary, since the embellishment — the more personal machinations and motivations of these colorful, outsized characters — is where Russell has put his emphasis. A lot of folks are talking about the film's '70s hair and clothes, which might give you some indication of how Hustle relies on surface charms. But for amusing times this holiday, you could do worse.