There is definitely a huge market for movies like these. Ones which lean hard into the underdog/inspirational/feel good stuff. And yes, afterword I did want to go outside and shoot some hoops, which does mean “Hustle” succeeded in its basic sports movie obligation. But with nothing really new to offer, a by-the-numbers storyline, speeches that never quite become inspirational and a couple of Rocky-esque montages that were never going to be as good as the real thing, all praise must go to the filmmakers for understanding how to make this story into a film that was more entertaining than it had the right to be.
Synopsis: Middle-aged disillusioned scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) discovers a diamond in the rough, street ball player in Spain named Bo Cruz, who he believes might be the next big thing in the NBA, and also Sugerman’s ticket off the road and into the NBA coaching job of his dreams.
Director Jeremiah Zagar saved this movie from becoming background noise, by both using handheld camerawork, giving “Hustle” it’s gritty feel, and more importantly giving Netflix audiences what they came to see from movie like this; don’t bore us, get to the chorus. “Hustle” is conventional, but also is never not moving forward.
And if all you came to see was NBA superstars, “Hustle” has got you covered too. This is a basketball film that would like you to know that it spent a lot of money on numerous NBA cameos. Cameo’s ranging from Shaq, to Charles Barkley, to Dr. J (Julius Erving) himself. There are also plenty of current players in this, the two who get the most screen time being Juancho Hernangomez of the Utah Jazz, who plays Cruz, and Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who plays a highly sought-after college superstar, the Apollo Creed of this film and the antithesis of Cruz. As first-time actors, Edwards and Hernangomez give performances that are good enough not be distracting.
But Adam Sandler is the lead here. And love him or hate him, Sandler is a charismatic actor who can act when he wants to, and he is good in this. Queen Latifah, who plays his wife, does a wonderful job in regards to making their relationship seem believable. But the real standout performance comes from Ben Foster, who plays the evil and spoiled billionaire Philadelphia 76ers owner. He’s not even in that many scenes, but his presence is felt as someone we should love to hate.
Final Thought: “Hustle” is no “He Got Game”, but is entertaining enough to get the job done. Also, you don’t have to know basketball to enjoy it. In fact, during the gameplay sequences where the majority of Bo’s opponents are substantially shorter than him, it might be better if you’ve never witnessed a minute of professional basketball.
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