Boy, were we surprised. Somewhere along the way, Ireland became a competent actress. Not a good actress mind you, but competent. Certainly enough to carry a lightweight film like this one. She's got the squeaky voice reasonably under control, and she carries herself with more confidence than before. Both of these things are essential when trying to play this part -- can you imagine a confidence trickster who acts like a nervous Minnie Mouse?
As we mentioned above, Kathy Ireland plays a con artist named Marsha. And because the con artist is played by Kathy Ireland, she has big breasts. Heart of gold! We really meant, a con artist with a heart of gold, we swear! Marsha's scams usually involve a quick bit of social engineering, wherein Marsha parts a fool from his money and then disappears. From time to time, though, she takes jobs from a local shyster who helped bail her brother out of some gambling charges. Despite the fact that her sibling has since disappeared of his own accord, Marsha must still pay off her obligation to the gangster.
This time, the lawyer, Henry, wants her to become friends with another young woman who is unknowingly the heir to a huge fortune. As the current holder of the fortune is about to die, Marsha must learn enough about the girl, named Jean, to replace her when the benefactor croaks. Do this job, Henry tells her, and all debts are forgiven. Although she has misgivings about the job, Marsha moves into the apartment across the hall and proceeds to insinuate herself into Jean's life, including taking a job at the strip club where she works.
Ireland is in fact the central character, so she has to try to engage us emotionally in order for the film to really work. And while she is far from the worst actress we've seen, Ms. Ireland does have a little trouble displaying believable emotions. She reminded us of something Wes Craven said in the audio commentary to Scream. In order to get Drew Barrymore to become believably distraught while cowering behind the TV, he told Barrymore that he was going to kill her puppy. We cringe to imagine what the director of Miami Hustle told Kathy Ireland to get her to emote.
"Hey Kathy, you need to look sad in the is scene. And if you don't, we'll kill this whole litter of newborn puppies by dropping them into a blender set on 'puree.' So we want you to look sad, OK Kathy?"
"OK, Kathy, now we want you to look happy. Think about one-piece swimsuits, K-Mart contracts, and whiskers on kittens. Got that?"
One other thing that kept us from believing this film was a scene involving Jean. A slimy patron of the strip club asks Jean to take off her bra, which she is reluctant to do until he offers her $200. Later on she explains that she couldn't resist his offer because he was "waving next month's rent" under her nose. Now wait a second! Jean lives in a huge apartment with a beautiful view right on the water in one of the trendiest cities in America. One half of Stomp Tokyo, Scott, pays a lot more that $200 for his apartment, and he has an apartment that is smaller than the interior of some cars, only with worse plumbing. His view is of a concrete wall 15 feet away, and he lives in a city commonly called "the land of the very red and the nearly dead." If Jean pays $200 a month for her apartment, it must have been rent-controlled since 1908.
The downfall of Miami Hustle is that both the acting and the story are barely average. In a shell-game movie like this one, that's the kiss of death. Ireland's acting can't make up for the lackluster plot, and even the script's one good twist just isn't enough to keep the movie afloat. However, as Kathy Ireland films go, it's probably your best bet.
Review date: 7/20/98
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