I’m not a movie guy. Plain and simple.
The past two years alone, I’d estimate I’ve might’ve seen a total of, say, 18 movies released in 2021 and 2022. That averages out to a little less than one per month, far fewer than your average Joe with a Netflix subscription.
Because of that, I’m not usually one to impersonate a film critic — we typically leave the film discussion to our film critic Neil Morris, who has a brutally honest review of “Jurassic World: Dominion” in this week’s N+R — because I, frankly, don’t watch nearly enough movies to have a baseline of what separates good filmmaking from bad filmmaking, besides the glaringly obvious examples of each.
And, despite me being a self-proclaimed sports junkie, I can’t say that many sports movies — of the ones I’ve seen — have really been able to captivate me. Though there are notable exceptions.
I enjoyed watching “The Blind Side” with my family in theaters when I was 11 years old and I’ll always be a sucker for classics like “Remember the Titans,” “Coach Carter,” or “Love & Basketball,” but for the most part, I rarely see myself itching to see movies about sports — whether they’re entirely fictional tales of heroism or rooted-in-truth biopics like the recent films about former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner or former NFL head coach Sean Payton.
However, over the weekend, I found myself enthralled with Netflix’s newest sports flick, “Hustle.” And I’ve just got to talk about it.
“Hustle,” released on the streaming platform on June 8, is a film directed by Jeremiah Zagar and produced by Adam Sandler (the film’s main protagonist) and NBA superstar LeBron James.
The premise is this: Longtime NBA scout Stanley Sugarman (played by Sandler), who works for the Philadelphia 76ers, has been tasked with finding the next great overseas “unicorn” to put the Sixers into championship contention. After dozens of flights around the world, and more basketball than any of us could stomach, a lucky turn of events finds Sugarman at a court on the streets of Mallorca, Spain, where he meets — and essentially stalks — Bo Cruz (played by Utah Jazz power forward Juancho Hernangómez) who turns out to be just the guy Sugarman’s been waiting for.
It’s a heartwarming sports drama about two men striving to prove everyone wrong and achieve their dreams — one’s dream of becoming an NBA player and the other’s of being an assistant coach.
What makes “Hustle” great, in my opinion, is not just Sandler’s down-to-earth performance as Sugarman, but the sheer number of NBA players who fill out the film’s cast.
Unlike some movies that have Hollywood actors attempting to portray the lives of either amateur or professional athletes, “Hustle” fills those roles with actual players and coaches, giving them a chance to play themselves — or fictional characters — on the big screen.
And, most of the time, they knock it out of the park.
Hernangómez is undoubtedly masterful as the big-hearted, misunderstood Cruz, giving us an insight into what foreign-born players often have to go through as they transition into the chaotic world of preparing for the NBA.
One of the film’s primary antagonists, Kermit Wilts, is played by Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Anthony Edwards, and he absolutely nailed it, towing the line between hilarious and punchable every time he appeared on screen as Cruz’s “rival.”
Kenny Smith, former NBA star and UNC legend, played Leon Rich, this film’s version of an NBA superagent, and, just like Hernangómez and Edwards, he did his thing in his first-ever acting role as someone other than himself.
Throughout the movie, I found myself waiting for every change of scenery just so I could pick out all of the recognizable NBA faces. And there are surely a ton.
Sixers forwards Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and center Boban Marjanovic, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry, Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Orando Magic forward Mo Wagner, NBA greats Dirk Nowitzki and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, all make appearances, among a plethora of others.
Not only did the movie feature prominent past and current NBA players, coaches (like Sixers head coach Doc Rivers) and executives (like Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens), but also gave some shine to famous streetballers, including Grayson “The Professor” Boucher — a former AND1 hooper with the baddest handles on the planet — who plays Cruz’s dribbling tutor.
Essentially, “Hustle” is a movie for basketball fans that does it right. Its cameos aren’t there for cheap “look it’s [insert any NBA player here]!” moments. In fact, executive producer LeBron James is notably absent from the film. Instead, “Hustle” seems to have handpicked most of the NBA cameos with the quality of the selected roles in mind, making it feel much more authentic rather than an NBA-themed cash grab.
For me, the film’s 1 hour, 58-minute runtime flew by as I enjoyed being sucked into a world of hoops that, despite the critique on the NBA’s drama-and-clique-filled culture, felt like a love letter to the game.
I can’t speak for all of the critics out there — though the film’s 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself — but to me, “Hustle” isn’t just one of the best basketball movies I’ve ever seen, but one of the best basketball movies ever made.
If you haven’t seen it, do it. You won’t regret it.
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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