'Hustle' review: Adam Sandler leans on his dramatic chops in earnest sports drama
Courtesy of Netflix
There’s always a refreshing sigh of relief when you realize Adam Sandler is attempting something different with a leaner, dramatic performance. “Reign Over Me,” “Men, Woman, and Children,” “Punch Drunk Love,” and his award worthy turn in “Uncut Gems” are standouts on a filmography comprised of D-level comedies that pandered to an audiences who showed up only to see him scream like a child. Now he adds an earnest, somber performance to the resume in “Hustle” where he plays an overworked and underappreciated talent scout for the Philadelphia 76ers tasked with finding the next Michael Jordan.
Being a massive basketball fan and connoisseur of the sport, “Hustle” fits within Sandler’s wheelhouse and it doesn’t feature exotic locations or a plethora of Happy-Madison regulars, but Utah Jazz NBA star Juancho Hernangomez in his first on-screen role. Sandler plays Stanley Beren, an honest and unfiltered scout within the 76ers ranks who’s earned the respect of its owner (Robert Duvall) for unwavering honesty and has earned a spot on the coaching team. His job is put on hold, however, after new management (headed by a smarmy Ben Foster) needs Stanley to boost the roster for a presumed championship run.
On a whim in Spain, Stanley discovers Bo Cruz (Hernangomez) a street-smart basketball hustler with enough bravado and technique to play in the big leagues. His checkered past makes him a hard sell, but Stan, with the blessing of his wife (played by Queen Latifah), puts their chips in Bo’s corner, vigorously training him for the NBA combine. Writers Will Fetters (“A Star is Born”) and Taylor Materne don’t shy away from the sports cliches, complete with montages, botched scouting sessions, and inspirational speeches. There’s even a “Rocky” reference thrown in on principle.
Director Jeremiah Zagar (“We the Animals”) shoots the basketball scenes with urgency and when you think Sandler might slip back into his tired comedic act, he reels it back for something deeply personal. He might have zero chemistry with Latifah, but he thrives alongside Hernangomez in an earnest father/son display. Sandler, in supplementing the comedies with more dramatic works, continues to exemplify his versatility. Perhaps we’re entering a new stage of the actor’s career where the Happy/Madison logo doesn’t automatically mean the cinematic kiss of death. Pair the comedian with a group of talented writers/filmmakers and the baskets shoot themselves.
HUSTLE opens in select theaters Friday, June 3rs before debuting on Netflix Wednesday, June 8th.