Adam Sandler’s newest Netflix original, after the unwatchable Hubie Halloween, is the sports drama Hustle. Sandler portrays Stanley Sugarman, a basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. His days are spent out of hotel rooms with takeout fast food as he scours the planet looking for the next star player for the NBA. After witnessing a Spanish local named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez) play a phenomenal game of streetball, Stanley becomes hell-bent on training Bo to become a new player for the NBA.
Hustle is an investing, entertaining drama that features phenomenal work across the board. In the film, Stanley asks Bo, “Do you love this game?” This is a question not only being asked to Bo, but also to the audience. This is a movie designed for people who love watching basketball. Fortunately, it tells a captivating story that may inspire in audiences a previously unfound love for the sport. However, it’s a movie that NBA lovers can appreciate on a deeper level, as no film has assembled this many basketball icons into one movie since Uncle Drew in 2018.
The easiest criticism that one can make about this movie is that it’s formulaic. Nearly every film in the sports genre tells the same story, and it’s easy to look at a movie like this and label it as Creed with basketball instead of boxing. The similarities are there, but there is a reason why this story structure has stood the test of time. Seeing a rags-to-riches story about a young up-and-coming athlete training to become even better and find professional success with the help of an older mentor is a tale as old as time. The formula works, whether we like it or not, and the results speak for themselves.
Hustle works because of Stanley’s goal. Throughout the entire movie, he wants nothing more than to make Bo the best player he can be. Stanley sees Bo’s weaknesses and knows how to work on them. He knows the right things to say to him, and their relationship as a mentor and a learner becomes fun to watch. There is an amusing scene where Stanley tries to get Bo’s head out of the game by insulting him so that Bo can learn not to be distracted by other players. Seeing Bo improve as a player throughout the film is very satisfying.
When you begin a movie starring the Sandman, you can expect one of two versions of him: the skilled thespian from Uncut Gems or the unbearable goofball from Jack & Jill. Fortunately, this is an excellent dramatic performance from Sandler that isn’t a career best, but remains captivating as he gets a few comedic moments alongside the serious ones. At first, it can be unclear why Stanley is so dedicated to making Bo into a star, but as we learn more about Stanley’s troubled past, everything makes sense, and Sandler’s talents begin to shine.
There is also a surprising amount of talent from the rest of the cast. Queen Latifah is superb as Teresa, Stanley’s wife, but many of the actors are basketball players, not professional actors. If there’s one thing we can learn from last year’s Space Jam: A New Legacy, it’s that the skills on the court don’t always translate to skills on the screen. However, Hernangómez gives an excellent performance, as does Kenny Smith as Leon Rich, a friend of Stanley’s. In addition, Anthony Edwards, the shooting guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, gives an outstanding performance as Kermit Wilts, an antagonistic player who insults Bo on the court. He has such a perfectly detestable presence that I was surprised he wasn’t a trained actor.
Hustle is a tremendous sports film that, while not among the best in its genre, is certainly worth watching for anyone who loves basketball. This movie offers a celebration of the sport with some exciting, well-directed basketball sequences from Jeremiah Zagar, and it gives Sandler another chance to showcase his dramatic acting chops. It’s fun, exciting, and sad, and while it may stick like glue to that predictable sports movie formula, the story remains an enjoyable watch — particularly for those who love this game.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: Critic attended a press screening for our Hustle review.