Movie Review: Hustle – SLUG Magazine
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Happy Madison Productions
In theaters: 06.03
Broadcast on Netflix: 06.08
The partnership between Netflix and Adam Sandler was responsible for more crap production than Metamucil, though it undeniably got a high viewership. With basketball comedy-drama Hustlethe team ultimately pulled off a slam dunk in terms of cinematic quality.
Hustle is the story of Stanley Sugerman (Sandler), a Philadelphia 76ers scout who spent so much time on the road that he missed his daughter’s birthday for nine straight years. Stanley’s dreams of earning an assistant coaching spot nearly came to fruition, but when venerable team owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duval), dies suddenly, leaving behind his son Vince (Ben Foster) in charge, Vince sends Stanley back on the road in pursuit of white whales. This search leads Stanley to Spain, where he discovers Bo Cruz, played by the real NBA star juancho Hernangomez. Bo is a phenomenal streetball player whose skill on the court is matched only by his troubled history. Stanley sees a star, however, and he brings Bo to America for a chance at superstardom and the possibility of a better life for both men. If they can get Bo’s temper under control and focus his will to win, maybe they could prove something to the NBA and to themselves.
Director Jeremiah Zagar (We the animals) brings a lot of play to Hustleemploying a raw and complex truth cinema sensibility that recalls Paul Greengrass. The on-the-ground sequences are fast-paced and exhilarating, though the film’s heart and soul is in the character relationships and Sandler’s terrific performance. As we have seen recently in Uncut Gemsthe old Saturday Night Live is quite an actor, with a commanding presence that goes beyond lazy, lowbrow shenanigans.
Hernangómez doesn’t prove exactly what he should do Shakespeare in the parkbut it is a strong presence that plays its role with confidence and composure. Queen Latifah provides an impressive number of assists as Stanley’s supportive but assertive wife, Teresa, and her romantic chemistry with Sandler is so natural that I’d love to see them paired up in other films. Three personal favorites, Duvall, Foster and current SNL all star Heidi Gardner don’t get enough playing time, but when they do, they’re solid team players.
The screenplay written by Taylor Materne and Will Hindrances isn’t anything particularly new, and it’s about as predictable as you’d expect for this kind of film. For the most part, though, it’s funny and charming with good dialogue and lots of heart. Hustle is a formulaic sports movie with a feel-good center, and it doesn’t try to convince you that it’s anything more or less than a really good one. It’s enjoyable and engaging because it captures the excitement of the game and, more importantly, it gives us winning characters to root for. Hustle doesn’t require you to be a sports fan to get trained, though a certain affinity for hoops certainly doesn’t hurt. My only big complaint is that Hustle chokes when it comes to Stanley and Bo’s relationship with their daughters, Alex (Jordan Hull) and Lucia (Ainhoa Pillet), respectively. Had the film attempted to explore those relationships — or even explore a more meaningful common ground between these two men than being better at sports than fatherhood —Hustle would have had a chance to be a deeper and more dramatic story.
In all, Hustle is an entertaining, slickly acted summer flick that compares favorably to its blockbuster competition, though I’d be surprised if it gains much in terms of award-winning viability. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t need to rely on expensive CGI or explosions, but aren’t quite in the mood for more challenging arthouse fare, Hustle scores more than enough points to make it a winning pick whether you see it on the big screen or stream it at home. –Patrick Gibbs
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