Hustle – 3.75 stars
Hardworking scout and would-be NBA assistant coach Adam Sandler (Stanley Sugarman) finds himself on the outs with his employer, the Philadelphia 76ers, after the owner (Robert Duvall) dies and Sugarman becomes enamored with an unknown street hoops player in Spain. Duvall’s son, Ben Foster, who always resented Sugarman’s relationship with his Pop, revokes Sugarman’s elevation to assistant coach and shuns the unicorn Spaniard (real NBA player Juancho Hernangomez) Sugarman has discovered.
What follows is an unoriginal but entertaining sports drama. Nothing trailblazing, but filled with enough good things to elevate the material, such as–.
1. Scads of NBA stars, with speaking and/or playing cameos. If you’re an NBA fan, this is right in your wheelhouse.
2. Sandler, who, when he is not yukking it up in mostly awful comedies with his pals, can surprise you with a raw vulnerability (Uncut Gems, Funny People, Punch Drunk Love, The Meyerowitz Stories).
3. An acceptance of sports tropes that borders on reverential immersion. Stanley has a deep dark secret about his playing days, Hernangomez needs a daddy, and daddy gets his hijo in shape with consistent runs up a Philly hill (to be fair, they do reference Rocky, but still) and the longest workout montage in film history (it practically has an intermission). Damned if it doesn’t work.
4. Hernangomez, who has some acting chops, and is surprisingly affecting as a young fish-out-of-water.
There are problems. Sugarman’s secret is insufficiently recapitulated, his family dynamic is too cute by half, and Hernangomez is tarnished and his stock devalued because he had an assault conviction in Spain (a fight with his daughter’s mother’s boyfriend).
Ha! Not in this NBA.
It should have been an attempted murder.
Of his father!
I’ve done much worse with just under 2 hours. On Netflix.