Hustle is a sports drama/comedy exclusively on Netflix directed by Jeremiah Zagar, written by Will Fetters and Taylor Materne, and produced by Adam Sandler and LeBron James. The film stars Sandler, Ben Foster, Queen Latifah, Juancho Hernangómez and Robert Duvall.
Sandler plays Stanley Sugarman, a scout for the 76ers searching for the next big star. Demoted following the team owner’s death, Stanley travels to Spain and finds Bo Cruz, a construction worker who hustles basketball for money. Stanley brings Cruz back to Philadelphia, determined to get him into the NBA.
As a plot, much of it is quite standard for this kind of story, just with basketball as the framework and the soul. However, the story takes a long time to reach its stride, and the overall runtime feels too long. The tone of the whole story is hopeful and positive, even when things go wrong. Unfortunately, many of the beats Hustle hits are so cliche that the story feels like the career mode of a sports game, like Fifa or Madden. It is sentimental and heartfelt, but the different aspects can get too predictable.
At the forefront of this movie is Sandler, who brings a really good performance for much of the movie. Stanley is intensely likable and friendly, warm to those around him. This isn’t new to Sandler’s characters, but the more dramatic nature of this movie means he isn’t as insufferable as in movies where he’s trying to be ridiculously funny. The other star of this movie is Hernangómez, who plays Cruz. Not only does his enormous frame make him an onscreen presence, but he is also really engaging as a character. Oddly, even though it’s his career that the story follows, he isn’t the main character. Like Sandler, he is very likable, and the chemistry between the two is among the best parts of the movie,
Many of the characters truly fit the basketball genre. That is mostly because this cast is rife with ex or current basketball players portraying themselves or fictional figures. There are so many cameos and many that are more than that. They have pivotal and definitive roles in the movie, giving the piece a dose of realism. It provides the basketball scenes with vitality as many of the players are doing what they do best.
What does let the performances down is the dialogue. In many instances, it is touching. The lines about the world of basketball are really clever and show the love the writers had for the sport. But an overabundance of cheesiness and cliches makes the dialogue so easy to foresee. In many ways, the physical acting is much better and fantastic. The moment when Stanley finds out about the death of the team’s owner could be the best part of the film because it is quiet and emotive.
When it comes to editing and cinematography, Hustle is rather generic. The training montages are good in terms of the transitions, alternating between day and night, and the shot choices are pretty. However, they’re just too long, a criticism that could be leveled at the movie in general. The soundtrack is a peculiar one. Zagar has utilised an album of hip hop and rap songs. But when these songs aren’t being integrated into the scene, it is eerily quiet. There is no recognisable score, which can leave large parts of the film being soulless and uncomfortable.
Hustle features the passion of basketball but not much else. Seeing the familiar faces and the real-life teams on screen is fun, and the games shown are exciting. It is clearly made by people who adore the game. The performances by Sandler and the non-basketball actors are not groundbreaking but are warm and engaging. Some of the athletes involved provide some surprising deliveries. But all of this can be found in a next-gen sports game, including the mundane story. Some life is breathed into it by some twists, which are easy to see coming, and the chemistry between Sandler and Hernanógomez. I found myself smiling at most of their interactions but not amazed. And where it may be labeled as a love letter to basketball, it can also be seen as a promo for the MBA.
Hustle is available now on Netflix.
Hustle features the passion of basketball but not much else. Seeing the familiar faces and the real-life teams on screen is fun, and the games shown are exciting…But all of this can be found in a next-gen sports game, including the mundane story.
William is a screenwriter with a love of comics and movies. Once referred to Wuthering Heights as “the one with the Rabbits.”