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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hustle
Hustle
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // March 29, 2005
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Weinberg | posted April 11, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Seems like someone has a nasty little grudge against former baseball great / gambling junkie Pete Rose, and it all but oozes off the screen as you sit through Hustle, a tacky and vague biopic that presents a complicated story … in the most simplistic way imaginable. And before you peg me as a Pete Rose cheerleader, I'll make my opinion known right from the outset: as much as I respect Pete Rose's astonishing prowess on the baseball field, I do not believe he should be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mainly because he cheated in one of the most egregious ways possible, but also because he spent the next 15 years denying it to anyone who'd listen. But if Rose's suspension were lifted tomorrow and he were to be elected into the Hall of Fame next week, I wouldn't exactly march out and protest.

But as you watch this aimless little vulture of a biopic, it becomes painfully clear that screenwriter Christian Darren has his pencils sharpened for Pete Rose. As played (rather poorly) by Tom Sizemore, Hustle's version of Pete Rose is that of a stingy and petulant child. He's heartless and manipulative and has no real interests outside of gambling. I'm sure that, in reality, Pete Rose had some serious personality flaws and maybe even a few tendencies towards asshole-ism, but there's no way he was this cartoonishly devilish.

For some bizarre reason, Hustle opens in the mid-80's, which is an early indication that you're watching a piece of tabloid bio-journalism, and not a well-wrought and earnest bio-pic. Any legitimate story about the life of Pete Rose would open while the guy was still in college. Let's be fair here: this man was one of the world's best athletes long before he became a gambling addict! The screenplay is paper-thin at best; Pete's either stressing over a bet, abusing his loyal flunkies, or assuring his pampered wife that everything will be OK. (Hint: it won't.)

Oddly enough, the movie's hero comes in the form of a clueless rube who manages to become Pete's "bookie go-between." Pete gives his bets to Paulie; Paulie calls them in to a greasy bookie named Ronnie. But, according to this movie, Pete would never pay his debts after losing a bet. He'd just leave it to poor Paulie and the increasingly irritated Ronnie to sort out the payment plans. If I didn't know any better (and, frankly, I don't), I'd assume this screenplay was written by an old pal of Pete Rose's gambling associates. Everyone in the film is given a modicum of good sense and decency; everyone except Pete Rose. Hustle is a smear-job on a guy who doesn't really need any more smearing; he's done himself more than enough damage over the years.

I expected to find one saving grace in the performance of Tom Sizemore, but even that effort went bust. Aside from the fact that he's forced to wear a seriously goofy collection of wigs, the actor brings nothing to the role. Call it a huge blunderous case of miscasting if you like, but the performance is entirely bland across the board. Oh, and you can ignore that intriguing credit that says "directed by Peter Bogdanovich." Hustle is directed with all the style of a made-for-Lifetime chick flick starring Judith Light.

If you still love and support Pete Rose, this flick will just make you angry. If you really hate the guy, you'll probably still be annoyed by Hustle's one-sided and resoundingly generic delivery. And if, like me, you're sitting on the fence of the whole Pete Rose controversy, you'll probably just fall asleep.

The DVD

Video

Since Hustle was produced as a TV movie, I fully expected the full frame treatment, but there's something seriously askew with this transfer. It's so off-kilter that when the word "Hustle" opens the credits, all you can see is "STLE"! What gives? (I can only guess that the opening credits sequence was originally presented in widescreen, but nobody bothered to notice when they transferred the flick onto DVD.) The movie itself is a flat and grainy affair.

Audio

Dolby Digital 2.0 and fairly tinny all the way. I'd be willing to bet that the movie sounded better when it premiered on ESPN. (Get it? Bet?) You'll find optional English captions or subtitles in French & Spanish.

Features

ABC Primetime Live with Charlie Gibson – Here's an interview between Rose and Gibson that took place in January of 2004. This was the first time that Rose would publicly admit that he did indeed bet on baseball games, including ones involving the team he coached for. A few other interested parties stop by to chime in (hey look, Mike Schmidt!), and Rose seems relieved to finally come (completely) clean. (12:36)

Bart Giamatti Press Conference – On August 24th, 1989, MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti announced Pete Rose's "banishment for life." Here's that press conference! (6:32)

Tommy Gioisa on Pete Rose – A former 'associate' of Pete's was interviewed back in 1990, and he gives us a brief scoop on the guy's gambling activities. (1:36)

ESPN Classic SportsCentury interview with John Dowd – Dowd was the attorney hired by MLB to investigate Rose's activities when the allegations first came to light. In this interview from July of 1999, Mr. Dowd explains how he originally got involved, what the findings of his investigation were, and how the initial case was cause for serious discretion. (8:59)

ESPN Classic SportsCentury Interview with Pete Rose - Recorded in June of 1998, this is one of the interviews in which Rose maintains his (relative) innocence and offers a few theories as to why MLB holds him in such disdain. He actually starts to ramble quite incoherently towards the end, plus it's just uncomfortable to watch Pete deflect, dodge bullets, and casually lie – now that we know the truth. (18:17)

Excerpts from Paul Janszen Interview with ESPN - Rose's main middle-man, Paul Janszen, shares his thoughts in an interview originally broadcast in August of '89. Janszen seems particularly pleased with himself as he gives us a truly illuminating revelation: "Honesty is a wonderful thing!" And I'm sure the publicity feels pretty good, too. (2:54)

John Dowd Interview with ESPN - Another brief sit-down with investigator Jim Dowd, this one recorded in December of 2002. Mr. Dowd explains (in a roundabout way) why Pete Rose will most likely never be reinstated by Major League Baseball. (1:16)

Sneak Peeks - A real short trailer for ESPN's Playmakers series.

Final Thoughts

Odd that a sports news network would bankroll a flimsy biopic that starts out dull and slowly devolves into low-rent character assassination, but I guess that's what pays the bills. Perhaps one day someone will make a truly even-keeled movie about the life of Pete Rose ... but this flick doesn't even come close.

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