'Hustle' Review: Adam Sandler balls out in earnest and uplifting Netflix sports drama
It's perhaps Adam Sandler's love for basketball that makes him the perfect fit for 'Hustle'. The energy, the unbridled emotions, and his acting chops are on full display in the LeBron James-produced sports drama. It would be wrong to call the flick boilerplate, despite the predictable storyline. For all the cameos from the NBA superstars, players and coaches alike, 'Hustle' shows it's more than just the star power that makes for a good film. Running at an hour and 57 minutes, there are copious doses of action and melodrama, but the focus stays purely on the 'Just Go With It' star who commands attention in every frame.
Stanley Sugarman (Sandler) loves balling but as a former player-turned-scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, he's pretty much a zombie at work hunting for talent across the globe. Things look brighter when the team's owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) moves him from scouting to Assistant coach, but the damp squib comes in the form of Rex's death putting his son Vince (Ben Foster) in charge. With the new heir and Sugarman clashing, the latter is sent back to his old job to find the next big star, and his search takes him to Spain where he encounters Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez), a streetball player with incredible talent, but a troubled past. While the duo manages to work out a deal, Sugarman realized there's more to just winning. The stakes for both men are higher as they navigate life and basketball.
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Bo is tall, athletic, and a hustler, but still raw around the edges. And he finds a solid obstacle in the form of Kermit Wilts (Anthony Edwards) who manages to get under his skin. This, combined with Bo's past shows an assault charge makes him a no-gooder in Vince's eyes. However, Stanley's faith in Bo along with his frustration towards Vince sees him quit his job and train the young talent himself, much to his wife Teresa's (Queen Latifah) skepticism. Hernangómez stars in a film that's got a lot more to do with the sports business, and how there's hardly any room for the personal.
A lot about 'Hustle' is formulaic. It's rags-to-riches, and it has all the elements that make for an inspirational sports drama. There are slick training montages, Sandler's trademark humor that he's sort of clamped down but is still funny enough to evoke laughter. The film is crisp and filled with energy. Director Jeremiah Zagar ('We the Animals') does away with excessive melodrama and instead brings in enough action to make it a solid basketball flick. On the acting front, this one's all Sandler who rolls up for a shot based on perfect assists from Latifah.
While the movie has its moments where the pace is turned down abruptly or the clunky dialogues, it can be forgiven for the earnest attempt it makes to keep the audience engrossed. 'Hustle' is fun, breezy, and relatable if you are an athlete, or aspiring to be one. There's no better time to catch up on some basketball content as the Warriors and the Celtics prep for a humdinger Game 3 of the NBA Finals.