'Hustle' has light fingers and a light heart
Robert Vaughn is the senior member of a group of con artists in AMC's "Hustle." It's easy to root for these glamorous crooks simply because they're so clever and meticulous about their work. (Amanda Searle/BBC/AMC)
There are a lot of pros to ''Hustle." And there's a lot of con, too.
The AMC series, a light British import, is a kind of serialized take on ''Ocean's Eleven," as its smooth confidence men and women pull fast ones on the wealthy and unwise. If there's a sucker born every minute, this sophisticated gang of thieves knows how to find him, delude him, disappear with his fortune, and finish it all off with a champagne toast.
The half-dozen grifters of ''Hustle," which premieres tonight at 10, behave like a cozy acting troupe as they play out their elaborate stings. One of the pleasures of the show is rooting for these glamorous crooks simply because they're so clever and meticulous about their work. In the premiere, they let a man think he's stumbled into a guaranteed money-making scheme, scripting their scam down to even the most seemingly casual comments. They go so far as to look legitimate by taking over a sleek office owned by someone else. Of course, the viewers also get duped a few times by the end of each hour; as with ''The Sting," or the short-lived series ''Eyes," the game keeps changing up.
The characters and the acting are fine, but not much to go on about. ''Hustle" is mostly about its sparkling surfaces and its plot acrobatics. Robert Vaughn -- yes, Napoleon Solo himself -- is the senior member of the pack, the calm veteran who knows these financial scams inside and out. Adrian Lester's Mickey ''Bricks" Stone is the head hustler, the lead actor in the ploys and the choreographer of the detailed illusions. He's a tense charmer who has very little patience for slip-ups, which newbie Danny Blue (Marc Warren) learns once too often. Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray) is an inscrutable beauty who has a history with Mickey.
They form a surrogate family, and they are as loyal to one another as they aren't to the people they fool. When any one of them is hurt in the line of duty, they rally round and offer support. It's a cool trick by creator Tony Jordan; you keep waiting for these rogues to dupe one another and scram with the money, but it doesn't happen. They're professional con artists, but they have honor among thieves. When Danny joins the family tonight, they welcome him as a foster home would welcome a scrappy street orphan in need of tough love.
As they work their victims, the ''Hustle" group clearly has a great time. And the tone of the production matches that giddy mood, with a jazzy Las Vegas soundtrack, freeze frames, and even fourth-wall eye contact by the characters. At one point, the man they're ripping off goes into suspended animation, while they talk about what they're doing. It's a playful show, from the cartoon opening credits to the happy little twists at the end. This isn't the dark psychodrama of ''The Grifters" or one of David Mamet's double-cross movies. It's a fluffy hour of flimflam, spun with silk and told with a wink.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.