Hustle, after a limited theatrical release, premieres Wednesday, June 8 on Netflix.
Adam Sandler, in a rare rhinoceros-produced drama already produced by Happy Madison, showcases both his acting chops and his love of basketball in a heart-wrenching classic sports tale about an advanced NBA scout and a Spanish defense prodigy who hopes to bring him to a great moment. Hustle is an old-fashioned, in numbers, feel-good tale depicting Sandler who – without surprise – is easily able to carry a serious backstory on his shoulders.
Hustle’s soft downside is that it’s annoyingly traditional, at times overstepping boundaries with its use of famous faces, but in the end it’s still a traditional, underdog effective movie that hits all the right notes and allows Sandler to get tired, and irritated. , clever every time. We’ve seen Sandler do dramas before, but he usually comes to us as quirky and/or abbreviated roles for author directors (Punch Drunk Love, Uncut Gems). This stabbed him in everyone, allowing himself to be sloppy and real (side note: he’s probably as close to playing as himself, in a way).
Hustle is an excellent example of “cliches are cliches because they work.” You will feel sadness and joy at the right times. You will root heroes to beat odds, naysayers, and personal demons. It is the story of two men trying to make their dreams come true, and the more interesting half is that one of them is in his fifties and does not believe that it is possible (just as society does not think it is possible) to make new achievements at that point in life.
In something that has become somewhat of a Netflix movie tradition, very talented people appear in small supporting roles, which we get Robert Duvall, Ben Foster, SNL’s Heidi Gardner, and Queen Latifah in the background here, and they don’t do much (although Latifa does have good chemistry with Sandler, playing his wife). Duvall appears briefly as a mentor, Foster is about to be Smarmy, and Gardner is basically just a plot point. For the most part, Hustle emphasizes ball players, whether they’re legends, media personalities playing themselves, or real athletes playing different characters (Kenny Smith as best friend or Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards as opponent on the court). That is the focus here. Sandler’s character, Stanley Sugarman, lives and breathes basketball, so it only makes sense that the movie would do the same.
As a hard explorer for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley was far more from his job than home to his family, and he missed out on more daughters’ birthdays than should ever have been acceptable. Stanley finally becomes an assistant coach and finds his staple dream of home being taken away from him when the owner’s son, Vince (Foster), sends him abroad to find his much-needed “next big thing.” In a lark, Stanley Poe discovers a construction worker Juancho Hernángómez who just so happens to have shown every X-factor he’s been looking for. Vince rejects Stanley’s choice so Stanley decides to bring Poe to the United States on his own year’s pay, taking a big risk.
Hernangómez, who plays for the Utah Jazz, is a good hand like Bo. Since Sandler is so great at gossiping and joking, he more than makes up for Bo’s laconic demeanor. Plus, Bo is played very childishly, so the buddy items here work simply because they’re all designed for Sandler to talk circles around someone. And it pays off over the course of the movie as well, as Bo begins to open up more and a stronger relationship is established.
If all of this had been done so poorly, it could feel like someone was late with someone overextending, but it works well, and Stanley’s alternate father and coach role allows for the fun. For better or worse, Hustle is often a two-person show, but sometimes the story is able to stand a convention or two, and the latter act comes with its own version of a three-pointer at the bell.
You don’t have to immerse yourself in the world of sports, or even just basketball, to fall under the spell of hustle. It’s enough for the characters to have endless passion, and the way Sandler talks about them, and fires up the jargon, sounds natural and catchy. Hustle is a powerful inspiring sports movie woven into it some Sandler’s humorous style, which allows him to feel a touch more unique than some of his cinematic peers.
Netflix Spotlight: June 2022