A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Robert Aldrich's "Hustle" is the kind of many-layered, complex, cynical crime story we get more often these days in novels than in movies. Maybe that's because novels (especially the Ross Macdonald books) like to relish their atmosphere more, to fool around with mood and provide a certain style for the dialog and characters.
Crime movies used to do that, too -- it used to be their specialty -- but in recent years a lot of cop and private eye movies have collapsed into set pieces for violence. We get shoot-outs, bloody death and high-speed chases, all handled with such mechanistic efficiency that we can't tell one movie from another.
"Hustle" isn't like that. It's a movie about characters, primarily. It cares more about getting inside these people than it does about solving its crime. And the two leading characters, a Los Angeles police lieutenant and a French prostitute, become unexpectedly interesting because they're made into such individuals by Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve. Sure, the characters sound like clichés -- the cop and the hooker -- and on the basis of their track records, we wouldn't necessarily expect Reynolds or Deneuve to transform them. They've played their share of fairly routine cops and whores before; it's a house specialty. But this time they create an involved, absorbing relationship that works.
We meet them in bed. We see a lot of them in bed, in fact, and it would be less than honest not to admit that Reynolds and Deneuve -- despite all the old jokes about his Cosmopolitan centerfold and her Chanel ads -- are uncommonly attractive people. But Aldrich doesn't just photograph them, he uses them: Deneuve for the tantalizing aura of icy kinkiness that came through in "Belle de Jour" and "Tristana," and Reynolds for the humor and vulnerability he mixes in with his virility.