‘Hustle’ movie review: Adam Sandler shoulders a clichéd NBA sports drama

A still from ‘Hustle’

A still from ‘Hustle’

There is a pop-culture notion that the mere presence of Adam Sandler can make a movie seem more attractive; Netflix sports drama  Hustle is also evidence of the same. Sandler stands tall as a basketball scout/coach eyeing greatness, and this is despite the glitz and gloss that comes in telling a story about the NBA, one of the planet’s most popular sporting events.

In  Hustle, Sandler is Stanley Sugerman, a yesteryear NBA player who currently works as a talent scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. Stanley’s aspiration of becoming the team’s assistant coach comes to an end when his well-wisher and the team’s owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) passes away, and the latter’s cocky, short-sighted son Vince (Ben Foster) takes over.

Vince sends Stanley back on the road with a promise of making him coach if he spots someone exceptional. That talent happens to be in Spain in the form of Bo Cruz (played by real-life NBA player Juancho Hernangomez), a 22-year-old construction worker, a single father, and a devoted son, who plays basketball to ‘hustle‘ money. Stanley succeeds in persuading Bo to take a shot at the NBA; however, when obstacles stack up, the basket keeps getting farther and farther from the coach and the prodigy.

Blame the familiar, simple setting of  Hustle, but a few moments do remind one of others in the genre like The Karate Kid, Never Back Down, or Creed. Yet, screenwriters Taylor Materne and Will Fetters ensure that a few fresh touches keep our hopes up. For instance, though the routine ‘injured player becomes a coach’ sports drama motif is followed, the backstory is withheld for far longer. Even that pay-off moment doesn’t come off as exposition and instead adds value to the scene and Bo’s character arc. Similarly, an over-stretched training montage, that seems bearable only due to the music, camera movements and quick cuts, ends with a homage to Philadelphia’s own cinema icon Rocky Balboa’s famous step climb.

Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Cast: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Queen Latifa, Robert Duvall, Ben Foster
Runtime: 117 minutes
Storyline: A basketball scout finds an exceptional talent and strives to get him drafted into the NBA

In its two-hour run,  Hustle‘s champion crutch is the beautiful coach-and-trainee relationship that is painted with broad strokes. While Stanley strives to make Bo believe in him, Bo struggles to believe in himself and the life that he is promised. As much as these two characters need each other to succeed for their mutual benefit, they are also empathetic to each other’s struggles and find larger meaning in each other’s lives. Such emotional arcs when spelt with care do top other momentary lulls in the narrative.

Not surprisingly, given Sandler’s presence, the humour works wonders in such a grounded film especially due to how organically they are brought in. Be it the running gag about Bo’s room service or Stanley’s daughter Alex’s (Jordan Hull) probable crush on Bo, nothing diverts the organic progression of events. The writers also manage to not tread fast on the sensitivity line. The room service gag might have become just another example of writers using one’s ignorance or the other’s condescension to gather laughs in a rags-to-riches story. However, the film doesn’t linger on these much and lets it add more curves to the character.

The character writing, as impressive as it is, is also disappointing for Bo’s backstory doesn’t get enough importance.  Hustle‘s sole reliance on its cinematography, editing, music, and good performances to make a better impact also becomes too evident as it never manages to break out of the writing cliches. Its brief moments of novelty can only provide so much of a breather. However, for fans of the NBA, frequent surprises in the form of cameos by NBA stars are to be looked out for. And as for Sandler... it’s yet another four-pointer.

Hustle is currently streaming on Netflix

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2022 2:51:38 pm |