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Hustle (1975)

Robert Adlrich's Hustle (1975) is a paragon of the 1970s cop drama, one of the many attempts to cash in on the hard-bitten success of flicks like The French Connection and Chinatown. It's an ugly film, in a way that makes one wonder if folks in that misbegotten decade dressed so loudly in order to offset the dirty brown look of everything around them. This probably passed for gritty at the time, but now it just makes Hustle look like a lesser, R-rated cousin to "The Rockford Files"; in fact, many performers in small roles in this film had guest appearances alongside James Garner. The movie features one of the odder sex-symbol pairings in cinema history, with the desiccated brow of Burt Reynolds facing off against theoretically glass-smooth features of Catherine Deneuve, who's never looked less icy or more bloated. He's a world-weary L.A. detective, and she's his high-priced call girl mistress. She wants to escape their workaday lives and move to Rome, while he keeps getting drawn back into police work. When a young woman's body washes up on the beach, her death is initially ruled a suicide by barbiturate overdose, but the woman's father (Ben Johnson) will have none of it. Neither will Burt's partner (Paul Winfield), who seizes on a snapshot photo as evidence of foul play at the hands of a well-known wealthy sleazebag played by Eddie Albert, re-teaming with Reynolds and Aldrich following the previous year's The Longest Yard. Albert is also one of Deneuve's clients, and one of those oily fellows who seems beyond the reach of the law. What ensues is a languidly paced attempt at a thriller with a passel of walked-through performances, the only exception being Johnson's as a grief-stricken Korean War vet who may be mentally unhinged, but who also possesses the only moral compass among the entire cast of characters. The expansive roster of actors includes Eileen Brennan as Johnson's downtrodden wife and Ernest Borgnine as Reynolds' superior. At least half the fun to be had with this tepid tale is spotting the cameo appearances by eventual stars: Catherine Bach (a.k.a. Daisy Duke) plays the dead girl's roommate, Fred Willard has a bit as a police interrogator, and Robert Englund (a.k.a. Freddy Krueger) has a pivotal role in the movie's final scene. Hustle's finale sends its level of amorality into the stratosphere, revealing a cynicism as cheap as a week-old loaf of Wonder Bread. Paramount's DVD release offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that adequately presents Joseph Biroc's muddy cinematography, while the monaural Dolby Digital audio is more than Frank DeVol's TV-ready score deserves. Supplements are mercifully nonexistent. Keep-case.
—Marc Mohan



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