Adam Sandler and Queen Latifah in Netflix’s ‘Hustle’: Movie Review

Adam Sandler so rarely steps out of his man-child comedy comfort zone that his most dramatic outings, including love stuffed with punch and Uncut Gems, are particularly gratifying. So does the rare comedy in which the actor’s shtick is contained, channeled into nuanced characterization, like that of Noah Baumbach. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). There is pleasure and emotion in watching Sandler in Hustle as basketball scout Stanley Sugarman, a man whose contagious passion for the sport keeps coming up against a wall of defeat. Adhering to the format requirements of inspirational sports dramas while offering plenty of individuality and characters worth rooting for, the Netflix feature scores points.

At first glance, it looks like a job for up-and-coming director Jeremiah Zagar, who transitioned from documentaries to narrative features with We the animalsone of the 2018 Sundance finds. This film was lyrical and impressionistic, drawing comparisons to Terrence Malick in its evocation of a troubled childhood in the scorching heat of a rural landscape.

Hustle

The essential

Hoop dreams come true.

Release date: Wednesday, June 8
Cast: Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, Juancho Hernangómez, Ben Foster, Kenny Smith, Anthony Edwards, Robert Duvall
Director: Jeremy Zagar
Screenwriters: Taylor Materne, Will Fetters

Rated R, 1 hour 57 minutes

Hustle is more attached to the workings of conventional storytelling, but Zagar and cinematographer Zak Mulligan’s tactile ability to capture moving bodies again produces its own kind of visual poetry here, and the warm observation director’s family dynamics breathes heart into what is basically a drama of two men seeking to overcome bad luck and secure their arcs of redemption.

The fanatical basketball devotion of Sandler – a producer here, alongside LeBron James – breathes loving life into a film filled with cameos from famous NBA stars, coaches and streetball heroes. It’s a love letter to the sport but also to Philadelphia, its music and feverish culture of sports fandom, as evidenced by the atmospheric photos of murals around the city depicting basketball legends. But whether or not you’re a basketball fanatic, the solid script from Taylor Materne (a writer on NBA video games) and Will Fetters (Bradley Cooper’s A star is born remake) takes you into the underdog story on a human level.

Tired of traveling nonstop and being away from his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and their teenage daughter Alex (Jordan Hull), Stanley finally gets his wish when his longtime boss, Philadelphia 76ers owner Rex Merrick ( Robert Duvall), takes him from scout to assistant coach.

But Rex’s sudden death puts his aggressive son Vince (Ben Foster) in charge of the business, nudging his more savvy and level-headed sister Kat (Heidi Gardner) in leadership decisions. This leaves Stanley not only without an ally, but working for a hothead he has clashed with on several occasions. Wanting to find the missing piece that will push the 76ers to the championship, Vince rescinds his father’s directive and sends Stanley back to the field.

That means no more thankless weeks of international airports, hotels and fast food, but a bright spark lights up the horizon when it falls on a match on a street court in Mallorca, Spain. It is dominated by a heavily tattooed giant named Bo Cruz (NBA player Juancho Hernangómez), who displays the natural ability of a star in the making. And in a field where professional scouts tend to know every gifted player on the planet, Bo, a 22-year-old construction worker, is the rarest of finds – an unknown talent with the speed, blocking skills and shooting precision to go all the way. in the League.

The extent to which Sandler dampens his humorous instincts while finding natural humor in schlubby Stanley is exemplified in his early attempts to connect with Bo. It happens first on a public bus, with the flawed help of an English-Spanish translation app, then at Bo’s house, which he shares with his mother Paola (María Botto) and young daughter Lucia (Ainhoa ​​​Pillet). Bo is initially reluctant to take time off work and walk away from Lucia, but when Paola hears of the potential $900,000 starting salary, she insists he fly to Philadelphia with Stanley and try out for the 76ers. .

Sports drama scriptwriting rules require hurdles, and those mostly come from Vince, who rejects Stanley’s find due to his lack of team experience. There’s also a past legal transgression that suggests the Spanish find could be prone to violence, an issue that later seems confirmed when he responds to cocky player Kermit Wilts (Anthony Edwards) being baited during a match. demonstration. But Stanley’s belief in Bo and his weariness of Vince’s arrogance and inflexibility lead him to quit his job and fund the young player’s training himself, alarming Teresa.

The script refrains from having Bo on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but in many other ways the early morning workouts are reminiscent of Rocky and the time-tested tradition in sports movies of the rough diamond newcomer taking on the pros.

These scenes also work through the emergence of a genuine friendship and mutual respect between Stanley and Bo, two men who share a desire for athletic excellence but also to do good through their families. Although neither is afraid of his accomplishments, both men are basically decent guys, with enough humility and awareness of their flaws to make them good company during the well-paced two hours of the film.

Zagar (a South Philly native) and Mulligan capture the action of the sport in all its vigorous excitement, pumping up the energy with a quick cut from editors Tom Costain, Brian M. Robinson and Keiko Deguchi to match the sophisticated footwork. There’s also some shrewd use of social media as Stanley builds Bo’s reputation via streetball challenges after Vince publicly discredits him, with an amateur video turning him into a YouTube sensation. The use of Spanish pop and hip-hop, including a number of musicians from Philadelphia, rocks these scenes, integrated with Dan Deacon’s effective electronic score.

There are places where Hustle veers into cliché — some of the standard pep talk, a miraculously timed last chance right after a dejected goodbye at the airport. But there’s a depth of feeling and a disarming sincerity to the film that keeps you watching. Even the inevitable triumph seems pleasantly understated.

The director showed his skill at coaxing performances with intricate shading of the non-professional actors playing the three preteens in We the animals, and here he gets an honorable job from Hernangómez, immensely likable and magnetic in his first screen role. His former Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Edwards is equally compelling as Bo’s chief antagonist, while NBA player-turned-sportscaster Kenny Smith seems just as comfortable on camera as agent Leon Rich. sportsman whose loyalty to Stanley dates back to their college basketball. days.

On the pro side, it’s good to remember former statesman Duvall’s flint wits, albeit in a few brief scenes, and Foster plays the bull-headed smugness of nepotism without tipping into the caricature of Don Jr. Queen Latifah brings her usual relaxed glow with a no-BS edge, making the standard supporting woman role a pleasant presence, and Hull is appealing as a girl aiming to go to film school. A scene where Stanley and Bo’s families meet for dinner is lovely, and Alex quietly swooning over the handsome Spaniard is a cute touch.

It’s clearly Sandler’s movie, and it makes Stanley a mensch, even when he’s screaming on the phone about what he owes after the 30 years he’s given the League. The performance is enhanced by the actor’s love of basketball, which explains the welcome lack of showboating as he tones down his signature comedic mannerisms and puts them at the service of character and story, not… a star turn. He does Hustle sweet and satisfying.


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