(R)

3 out of 4 stars

“The whole country is a strip club: you’ve got people throwing the money and you’ve got people doing the dance.”

While it’s debatable what Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona says during a defining scene in “Hustlers” is truly a line of brilliance, what’s undeniable is that the movie will leave plenty of people talking about it.

“Hustlers,” a movie inspired by the 2015 New York Magazine piece “The Hustlers at Scores,” is about a group of brazen strippers who use sex appeal, credit card fraud, drugs and alcohol to steal money from rich club attendees.

Directed and written by Lorene Scafaria, “Hustlers” isn’t about scantily clad women dancing on poles, though there is plenty of that. It’s about the search of power and control, and who will do what to take it and the means someone will go to maintain it.

“Hustlers” starts in 2007, when the life for Ramona, a veteran stripper, and new-to-the scene Destiny (Constance Wu), are shaking what their mommas gave them to take care of their families. But their financial outlooks take a downward spiral when the economy comes crashing down in 2008. The rich men of Wall Street — many of whom caused the economic disaster — stop coming to the club, ending the nights of money raining from the rafters for the girls on stage.

This is by far Lopez’s best performance of her career in which she’s been known far more for her singing than her acting. But at 50, she’s finally landed a bona fide hit. She’s the mastermind behind the scam, yet at the same time genuinely cares for merry band of strippers that includes Mercedes (Keke Palmer), Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Diamond (Cardi B).

Their scheme is simple, yet dangerously effective. They get men drunk or high – or both – and make them spend what’s in their pocket while they are at the strip club – and that’s just the start. The exclamation point comes at the end of the night, when the men rack up huge amounts on their credit cards, which suits the strippers just fine since they get a cut of the bill through another scam they’ve set up.

The strippers are no Peter Pans, despite believing they are doing all of it to help their families. But the truth is, most of the money they are swindling goes toward luxurious purchases, which are sometimes made, of course, using nothing but $1 bills.

It was only a matter of time before “Hustlers,” first brought to light in “The Hustlers at Scores” written Jessica Pressler (Julia Stiles) in New York Magazine, was turned into a movie.

The story blends comedy, sex, power, persuasion and crime seamlessly, since what Ramona and her crew is doing is a serious crime, which gets the police’s attention, leading to a thrilling finish that makes the movie worth watching.

(STXfilms)