Thursday, June 9, 2022

Adam Sandler's basketball drama


    I don’t know how realistic Adam Sandler’s NBA movie Hustle is, but I suspect blistering authenticity wasn’t really the point.
    A variety of real NBA players add credibility to a story about a frustrated international scout (Sandler) who believes he has discovered the next big basketball thing. 
   Appearances by Kyle Lowry, Dr. J,  Trae Young, and others crop up like bold-faced names in a gossip column but the core of the movie revolves around the relationship between the hot-tempered  Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) and Sandler’s Stanley Sugarman. 
   Before Stanley makes his big discovery, he's road-weary and frustrated. He thinks he's earned a spot as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, a franchise that has employed him for 30 years. Team owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) gives Stanley a long-awaited promotions but dies soon after making his promise.
   The late owner's bull-headed son (Ben Foster) reneges on the deal, sending a dejected Stanley back on the road. 
   While watching a playground game in Spain, Stanley finds Bo and arranges to bring him to the US.
  Director Jeremiah Zagar spends a fair amount of time showing how Stanley prepares the talented but undisciplined Bo for organized basketball at the highest level. Bo runs Philadelphia's hills, refines his footwork, and submits to Stanley's rigorous training regimen, which involves getting up at 4 a.m.   
    The supporting cast rounds out the story. Queen Latifah signs on as Stanley's mostly supportive wife and Jordan Hull plays his teenager daughter, a kid whose birthdays he always manages to miss because he's traveling.
    The best small roles belong to Minnesota Timberwolves' star Anthony Edwards, who plays Bo’s major on-court antagonist, and Kenny Smith, a former player turned TV commentator. Smith portrays a sports agent with enough juice to secure Bo a spot at the NBA draft combine.
   A bearded Sandler doesn't equal his work in 2029's Uncut Gems but proves effective as he benches his broad comedy impulses to play a decent guy who's trying to fulfill one last dream.  Hernangomez, who plays for the Utah Jazz, may not have discovered a second career but he holds his own.
  A sprinkling of back story dribbles through. As the story develops, we learn about Stanley's derailed shot at pro ball and single dad Bo's devotion to the young daughter (Ainhoa Pillett) he left in Spain with his mother (Maria Botto). 
   You'll probably out-guess many of the movie's moves. I don't know how much that matters. Available on Netflix and in selected theaters, Hustle plays its game well enough to merit a look.

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