Hustle, after a limited theatrical release, debuts Wednesday, June 8 on Netflix.
Adam Sandler, in a rare unicorn drama actually produced by Happy Madison, showcases both his acting skills and his love of basketball in a heartwarming, traditional sports tale about an aging NBA scout and a Spanish defensive prodigy he hopes to bring to life. the big moment. Hustle is an old school fable, by the numbers, that feels good, featuring a Sandler who – no surprise – is easily capable of carrying a serious dramatic story on his shoulders.
Hustle’s mild downside is that it’s annoyingly conventional and sometimes overdoes its use of famous faces, but in the end it’s still an effective, traditional film that hits all the right notes and allows Sandler to get tired, grumpy. , and smart all at once. We’ve seen Sandler do drama before, but it usually comes to us as quirky and/or juicy roles for auteur directors (Punch Drunk Love, Uncut Gems). This is his stab at an everyman, allowing himself to be sloppy and genuine (side note: it’s probably the closest he’s come to playing himself, in a way).
Hustle is a prime example of “clichés are clichés because they work”. You will feel sadness and joy at appropriate times. You’ll be rooting for heroes to overcome the odds, naysayers and personal demons. It’s the story of two men trying to make their dreams come true, with the more interesting half of it being that one of them is in his 50s and doesn’t think it’s possible (just as society doesn’t think it possible) to have new achievements at this stage of life.
In something that has become a tradition for Netflix movies, very talented people are featured in small supporting roles, as we have Robert Duvall, Ben Foster, SNL’s Heidi Gardner, and Queen Latifah in the background here, not doing much (though Latifah have good chemistry with Sandler, playing his wife). Duvall appears briefly as a mentor, Foster is about to be sycophantic, and Gardner is basically simply a turning point. For the most part, Hustle emphasizes its ball players, whether they are legends or media personalities playing themselves or real athletes playing different characters (Kenny Smith as the best friend or Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves as an on-court enemy). That’s the focus here. Sandler’s character Stanley Sugarman lives and breathes basketball, so it makes sense that the film would do the same.
As a longtime scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley has been further away for his job than he has been home for his family, and has missed more of his daughter’s birthdays than should be acceptable. Finally made an assistant coach, Stanley finds his base dream ripped from him when the owner’s son Vince (Foster) sends him back overseas to find a desperately needed “next big thing”. In a prank, Stanley discovers Juancho Hernangómez’s Bo, a construction worker who happens to exhibit all the X factors he’s looking for. Vince rejects Stanley’s choice, so Stanley decides to bring Bo to the United States on his own, taking a huge risk.
Hernangómez, who plays for the Utah Jazz, is a good hand like Bo. Since Sandler is so good at conversation and banter, he more than makes up for Bo’s terse demeanor. Also, Bo is played very childishly, so the buddy elements here work simply because everything is designed for Sandler to talk in circles around someone. And it pays off throughout the movie, too, as Bo starts to open up more and a firmer relationship is established.
If all of this had been done poorly, it would be like someone underestimating paired with someone overextending themselves, but it works well, and Stanley’s surrogate father-slash-coach role allows a prank to shine. For better or worse, Hustle is often a two-man show, but occasionally the story is able to sidestep a convention or two and the final act comes up with its own version of a three-pointer on the buzzer.
You don’t need to be immersed in the world of sports, or even basketball, to fall under Hustle’s spell. It might be enough that the characters have an unwavering passion for it, and the way Sandler talks about it and releases the jargon feels natural and inviting. Hustle is a solid inspirational sports movie intertwined some Sandler’s style of humor, which allows him to feel a more unique touch than some of his cinematic peers.
Netflix Spotlight: June 2022