Reel Reviews | Hustle

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

The best version of comedian Adam Sandler returns to the big screen on the small screen of Netflix in the basketball drama, Hustle.

The lifelong dream of scout Stanley “Double Deuce” Sugerman (Adam Sandler) has finally come true.  The owner of the Sixers, Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) has given him a job as an assistant coach.  On the cusp of the celebration, Rex dies and the team is handed over to his children namely his son Vince (Ben Foster).  One year later after Vince has failed to follow Stanley’s advice and drafted a bust, Vince demotes Stanley and sends him back out to find the next superstar.  A very disgruntled Sugerman runs across a kid in Spain playing streetball like a beast in a pair of construction boots.  Knowing this kid, Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) is the next star, he pitches him to Vince who refuses.  Believing in his instincts, Stanley brings Bo to the US on his own dime and works to get him the career that’s a life-changer for Bo’s family and his own.

Written by Will Fetters (A Star Is Born) and Taylor Materne, Hustle features Sandler, Foster, and Hernangomez along with Queen Latifah, Kenny Smith, Jordan Hull, Jaleel White, and a litany of NBA talent both old and new and some streetball legends from the And 1 tour.  The film is directed by Philadelphia native Jeremiah Zagar who gave us the delightfully creative movie We The Animals in 2018.

In 2019, Adam Sandler made a movie called Uncut Gems.  In a tragic miscarriage of justice, neither Sandler nor the movie received any recognition for the dramatic change, of course, he made in the movie.  While he did not receive any major honors, the world took notice that Sandler was not just a comedy guy.  Sandler has some range.  After doing Hubie Halloween in 2020, Sandler has returned to the more dramatic side of his work.

Sandler really works as the broken down and physically scarred ex-basketball player who has wisdom beyond his years.  He is convincing in the role, even paired up with Queen Latifah playing his wife.  Jordan Hull is awesome as the star-struck daughter Alex who has no athletic skills but can surely recognize talent. The work Sandler does here is on a different level than the gritty and ugly work he did in Gems but it is good, grounded, and serious with just a touch of humor.  Perfect for this vehicle.

Being set in Philadelphia, the city is a partner in the film.  From landmarks to cheesesteaks (They used Pat’s!), everything in the movie is about the city.  Just to keep it real, Sandler takes a justified poke at the fickleness of Philly fans.  The legend, Dr. J. shows up in the film as himself!  So if you’re not a fan of Philadelphia, you might have to take this one on the chin. 

Because Hustle is good, really good.  It can easily be called an NBA version of Rocky or Creed if you would rather.  Sandler has a deep love of sports that he has communicated in a lot of his movies whether he is featuring the game or the talent.  For example, Kevin Garnett has a big role in Uncut Gems. In this movie, Sandler turns the dial up to eleven assembling a plethora of NBA stars past and present for this movie. Dr. J. Shaquille O’Neal.  Dirk Nowitzki. Mark Jackson.  Allen Iverson. Trae Young. Luka Doncic. Tobias Harris.  The list goes on and on.  From the streets of Madrid to the hip-hop soundtrack, to using real ballers in their element, director Zagar creates an easy authenticity to the look and feel of the film while also letting the audience know just how hard it is to make it in the NBA as either a coach or player.  If Hernangomez was as good in real life as he is in this film, he certainly would not be on his fifth NBA team right now.  That’s the magic of cinema for you.

Rated R for language, Hustle is a slam dunk.  It captures the stresses, politics, and tension of becoming an NBA player and wraps it up in a touching story about family and love that is just plain fun.

Hustle drops on Netflix starting June 10. 

Grade:  B