Adam Sandler was once a cautionary tale for what streaming could become. And your initial output to Netflix— marred by mind-boggling disasters like The Ridiculous 6, The Do-Over, Sandy Wexler — correctly predicted the streamer’s future, which would come to be defined by a McDonald’s-style cinematic approach. But in true Sandler fashion, he’s also maintained an (almost) equally constant stream of critically acclaimed gems. Call it your side hustle if you will.
An early adopter of online entertainment – Sandler was one of the first big Hollywood stars to make the transition to streaming, having understood that his audience would prefer to watch his movies full of fart jokes at home. The actor has been associated with low cost ‘comedies’ which are often more difficult to watch than instructional videos on the inner mechanics of conveyor belts. The overwhelming feeling was that all of Sandler’s comedic filmography—all three decades of it—was an elaborate prank designed to expose the film industry’s hunger for hits, the audience’s appetite for junk, and the ease with which both can be exploited.
He did, however, stun people with his dramatic reach from time to time in films like Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me and, ironically, Funny People. His latest in a new wave of serious cinema, following The Meyerowitz Stories and Uncut Gems, is the aptly titled Hustle, a Netflix sports drama in which Sandler proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not just one of the most talented American leads in the world. last two decades – comedic or not – but that he’s probably one of the most talented flimflammers the film industry has ever seen. All those Happy Madison comedies were certainly an ironic ploy, weren’t they?
In Hustle, he stars as Stanley Sugerman, a legendary fictional basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who has spent his daughter’s last nine birthdays on the road, living in five-star hotels and keeping the fast food business alive. But having reached the end of his rope, and with ambitions to transition into a coaching career, he wants out. His new boss, played by the ever-reliable Ben Foster in a particularly scenario-crunching performance, has other plans. He sends Stanley on a last-minute mission to identify and recruit the game’s next big star, or lose his job.
The best of Express Premium
In some ways, Stanley is much like the High Lamas who set out on missions across Tibet to locate the Dalai Lama’s next incarnation. There’s definitely a spiritual side to Stanley’s dogged devotion to the cause, even if the actual process of finding the next big thing in basketball is dominated by mind-numbing toil. His desperate search takes him to Spain, where he meets a skinny street player named Bo Cruz, played by real-life NBA athlete Juancho Hernangómez. Bo lives with her mother and young daughter, works in construction during the day, and tries to earn easy money on the basketball courts at night. This is both Bo’s tale of redemption and Stanley’s hero’s journey.
Hustle hits all the notes you’d expect, but it’s more unconventional in its approach to sports movie stereotypes than it needed to be. Of course, there are endless training mounts and intense clashes; there’s even an Adonis Creed-like ‘villain’ who stands as a human obstacle in Bo’s path with robotic reliability. But director Jeremiah Zagar’s fluid camerawork and strong command over tone – this is, first and foremost, skillful entertainment – keep things moving at a rapid pace, carefully placing conflict where necessary and culminating in the psychological blow. that only emotional relief can bring. As solid as the film is, however, it can’t resist the temptation of an unstable fish-out-of-water humor at Bo’s expense (though, ironically, it’s Bo who burns a hole in Stanley’s pocket with his unchecked spending. in room service).
In addition to the two, the script by Will Fetters and Taylor Materne paints the supporting characters in broad strokes. You always know who’s friend and who likes Stanley and his protégé. Foster’s only job, for example, is to mock Bo every 10 seconds. And the actor knows exactly the kind of performance required of him, milking it like he’s staring cancellation in the face.
Speaking of great acting, Sandler is quite exquisite here. Watch his wordless performance in a pivotal opening scene when he discovers the death of a mentor figure. Zagar holds Sandler’s face as understanding hits, and then it turns to disbelief and then to pure sadness. It’s a true showcase for his talent, and our biannual reminder that this is the kind of creative energy Sandler should really expend.
Director – Jeremiah Zagar
Cast – Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Ben Foster, Queen Latifah, Robert Duvall
Evaluation – 4/5