‘Hustle’ Review — The Sandman Delivers a Solid Sports Flick

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Hustle Review

It’s well-known that Adam Sandler loves basketball. There’s no shortage of stories about the comedian and movie star playing pick-up basketball on the sets of his movies or even in public parks. The Sandman channels his love of basketball into his latest Netflix feature, Hustle, which sees Sandler co-producing with NBA superstar LeBron James. The resulting film is one that is teeming with love for the game of basketball and the ever-evolving culture around the sport and the NBA. However, despite a strong performance by Sandler and bevy of cameos by NBA players, Hustle can’t outrun the sports movie cliches that prevent it from being anything more than just a nice, competent sports movie.

Sandler stars as Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who aspires to move up the ranks into coaching. He’s dedicated to his job, traveling around the world to eye potential talent that might just make the 76ers a championship franchise. However, his dedication to his work keeps him away from his beloved wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and their daughter (Jordan Hull). Just when it seems that Stanley’s life is about to change after the owner of the Sixers (Robert Duvall) offers him an assistant coaching position, the owner dies shortly thereafter and is replaced by his arrogant son (Ben Foster) who promptly sends Stanley back on the road to search for the Sixers’ next superstar. Traveling the globe, Stanley discovers a young phenom named Bo Cruz (NBA player Juancho Hernangomez) and tries to get the young player to Philadelphia to prepare for his NBA career. Since Bo is an unknown quantity to the insular world of the NBA, the Sixers and other franchises are reluctant to give the young player a chance. Stanley and Bo become a team of underdogs determined to fulfill elusive dreams of basketball glory.

The reality is that it’s always going to be difficult to avoid the clichés of sports films because so often the ending can only fall in one of two scenarios – win or lose. Hustle is no different in this regard even if the film’s climax doesn’t come down to a big game. But where Hustle stands out and ultimately succeeds is the way in which the film focuses on the families of Stanley and Bo Cruz, making these crucial relationships that fuel their competitive drive. The script by Taylor Materne and Will Fetters gives these characters a real level of emotional depth and director Jeremiah Zagar doesn’t drop the ball in making that depth payoff emotionally for the audience. Adam Sandler deserves a lot of credit for making the emotional core of the film work with a very soft, nuanced performance that once again highlights just how good of an actor he can be when the material truly engages him. For his part, Juancho Hernangomez avails himself well in his acting debut. While not an Oscar-worthy performance, Hernangomez delivers an excellent performance for a pro athlete, perhaps the one area where he’ll outshine LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Hustle also boasts an expansive roster of NBA talent. Anthony Edwards plays Bo Diaz’s up-and-coming rival who taunts the young Spaniard and gets under his skin. It’s another starturn for Edwards who had a very nice breakout performance in this year’s playoffs. Former player and current NBA commentator Kenny Smith plays a power-agent and Stanley’s best friend. Players appearing as themselves include Trae Young, Kyle Lowry, Boban Marjanović, as well as my personal favorites Seth Curry (miss you, Seth), Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, and Tobias Harris. These cameos may not translate to every viewer, but dedicated NBA fans will be thrilled at the seemingly non-stop slew of cameos. Although I do think it’s funny that a movie so dedicated to the modern NBA and the 76ers wasn’t able to secure the talent of Joel Embiid, the best player on the Sixers (my favorite player on my favorite team) – but that’s just my little nitpick as a fan.

While Hustle may not be a transcendent sports film, it’s still a very well-made crowd-pleaser that is made with love for basketball on all levels – from street ball to the NBA. The genuine love of the game comes through and that’s something you can’t fake. It’s a movie with a real heart for its characters. It’s a movie that is about the grind and determination that is required for greatness. My only wish was that the film showed a bit more grit and determination in trying to evade the clichés of the genre. In the end, Hustle is good sports movie. It just could’ve been great.

Hustle
  • Overall Score
3.5

Summary

A well-acted, competently made sports film, Hustle boasts a very strong performance by Adam Sandler and a number of NBA stars but fails to really standout from the pack of countless other sports films.

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