“Hustle” stars Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, Juancho Hernangómez, and Robert Duvall. Released on June 3, 2022, the film has a former basketball scout recruiting an overseas player to play in the NBA.
The film was directed by Jeremiah Zagar, who’s known for directing documentaries like “In a Dream” and “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart”. Zagar is also known for directing “We the Animals”. Playing basketball takes a lot of work. However, choosing someone to join the NBA is a challenge in itself. Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is back with another sports film for Netflix this year, although this one appears to be a bit more dramatic than Kevin James’s version of the New Orleans Saints coach. While it’s not based on a true story like “Home Team”, it does feature Sandler’s latest attempt to showcase his dramatic chops outside of his comedic zone. Here’s hoping this game is more invigorating than the one we got in January. While I still enjoy Sandler as a comedian because of his earlier films, I’m also happy to see him focusing on winning back his fans by taking on more serious roles. The film is scheduled to drop on Netflix in a few days, but the streaming service was kind enough to release it in select theaters beforehand for people who don’t have it. Luckily, my closest cinema happens to be one of them, which gave me an excuse to check it out earlier than expected. So was it able to score a few winning shots? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Stanley Sugarman (Sandler), a basketball scout getting his career back on track as an assistant coach for the 76ers. However, he also struggles to balance his job with his family, including his wife Teresa (Latifah) and daughter Alex (Jordan Hull). While attempting to find a new player overseas, he runs into a construction worker named Bo Cruz (Hernangómez), residing in Spain with his mother and daughter. Seeing Bo as a way to revive his career due to his skills on the court, Stanley recruits him to play in the NBA, but Bo’s past could jeopardize their shot at the big leagues.
This is another film that showcases what goes on behind the court and the drama that drives the game. Whether it’s from the perspective of a player or a coach, life outside of the sport is usually as thrilling as watching the action unfold. In the case of “Hustle”, the film focuses on the basketball scout who recruits talented players from around the globe, including Spain. It may not sound as exciting as a person’s journey to becoming a sports star, but it does play a vital role in a player’s success. “Hustle” not only portrays this role engagingly, but it also translates well as a feel-good sports drama consisting of heart and a bunch of basketball superstars. Seriously, there were a lot of players that appeared as themselves or fictional characters. It’s no wonder LeBron James is involved as one of the film’s producers.
Now, I wouldn’t be quick to call it “the greatest sports movie ever made” or something like that since it has some minor issues that affect its performance. One of them is the plot. The movie offers a story about determination, redemption, and the importance of a family’s support. Its redemption arc comes from Bo Cruz, whose journey to become an NBA player is heavily affected by his criminal record. The family aspect has Stanley working with his daughter Alex to get Bo’s talents noticed and Bo leaving his basketball dreams behind to support his own. The themes portrayed in many other sports movies are undeniably fundamental. Still, the inspiration behind them is enough to warm plenty of sports fans’ hearts, and “Hustle” managed to fit into that category. However, the movie’s formulaic nature and pacing prevented it from scoring more points than those that inspired it. Despite that, the film has plenty of entertainment value in its sports action, screenplay, and heartfelt drama.
Adam Sandler’s latest role as a dramatic actor is unsurprisingly another successful attempt for him regarding his magnetic performance as Stanley. It doesn’t top his career-best performance in “Uncut Gems”, but it does show Sandler’s desire to be more subtle in his dramatic portrayals. More importantly, he never lost sight of the traditional charisma he’s known for during the process. Sandler also did a splendid job balancing his sense of humor with some of the film’s serious aspects. The rest of the cast was also very talented in their roles, including Queen Latifah as Teresa and Ben Foster as Vince Merrick. Juancho Hernangómez becomes the latest basketball player to shine in the movie business as he portrays Bo Cruz instead of himself. All I can say is that I’m very impressed with how Hernangómez balances his skills on the court with his acting. Another real-life player invading the screen is Anthony Edwards. He plays Kermit Wilts, another basketball star aiming for a shot at the NBA and Bo’s rival. Edwards played the role of this heartless jerk pretty well, but his character’s arc felt one-dimensional and unfinished.
Jeremiah Zagar has maintained his career with his slew of documentaries and short films. However, he didn’t shy away from doing narrative-driven projects, with “Hustle” being the second feature-length film he directed following “We the Animals”. As someone who’s experiencing his filmmaking craft for the first time, I thought Zagar handled the film’s style well enough for me to support his future projects. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the movie’s swift camera movements during specific sequences, especially the zoom-ins and zoom-outs that made it more documentarian than cinematic. These camera movements were more of a distraction than a storytelling tool.
Overall, “Hustle” dribbles past its formulaic elements to deliver a game-winning shot for moviegoers and sports fanatics. Unfortunately, its skills may not be enough to score past the other great sports dramas regarding its story and pacing. Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining and heartfelt basketball movie that’s worthy of the cast’s talents, especially Adam Sandler, who delivered a riveting performance as the basketball scout. If it’s playing at your closest theater and you’re a fan of feel-good sports movies, it’s worth checking out before it lands on Netflix this Wednesday. If you want to wait to watch it on the streaming service at home, that’s fine too. Just don’t miss out on this appealing piece of talent.