“Hustle” is directed by Jeremiah Zigar (We the Animals, In a Dream) and stars Adam Sandler (Big Daddy, Uncut Gems), Queen Latifah (Ice Age: The Meltdown, The Equalizer), Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Hell or High Water), Juancho Hernangómez, and Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather). This film centers around a down on his luck basketball scout, Stanley Sugerman. When trying to justify having a place in the NBA, Sugerman finds a young, skilled man from Spain and decides to give him a shot at entering the big leagues.
“Hustle” came out of nowhere for me, partially because Netflix, this film’s distributor, is not exactly the most prominent studio when it comes to marketing their new content. Obviously they have been busy promoting the new season of “Stranger Things,” but that’s all the new content I knew they had coming out recently. To be fair though, of all the streaming services out there, I am more likely to log onto Hulu or HBO Max before I open Netflix. However, much like another Netflix film, “The Adam Project,” which released earlier this year and became a delightful couple hours of entertainment, I watched “Hustle” through a free screener. I did not know what to expect with this film, because Adam Sandler is an enigma of an actor. He can crank out a terrible comedy like “Grown Ups” or give a tour de force performance like he did in “Uncut Gems,” which coincidentally, much like “Hustle,” are both movies that at least partially involve basketball. Now that we have completed the unofficial “Adam Sandler Basketball Trilogy,” can we please get a few more Adam Sandler projects involving golf? I would totally buy a Blu-ray boxset of the “Adam Sandler FORE Quadrilogy!”
Now I mentioned two completely different films that range in overall subject matters and quality. “Grown Ups” is a disposable, flat, dumb comedy that feels more like Adam Sandler wanted an excuse to gather with his friends to hang out for a number of weeks. Making the movie however was a pure afterthought. Then there was “Uncut Gems,” which is not a movie for everyone, but it was certainly one for me. It is a film that has a trademark zaniness to it that makes you feel like you are on drugs within the first ten minutes, only to have the high peak by the end of the runtime. It felt like there was a commitment to the craft. Even Kevin Garnett of all people could act! Who ever thought I would be saying that?
If I had to put “Uncut Gems” and “Grown Ups” on a seesaw, the two films feel rather out of balance. If I take one off and let “Hustle” take its place, the balance is somewhat restored, because I think “Hustle” has the pinch of lightheartedness, charm perhaps, of “Grown Ups,” while also feeling like we are seeing the same level of commitment Sandler and crew put into a movie like “Uncut Gems.” “Hustle” is a genuinely good film, and part of me is delightfully surprised because Adam Sandler movies are like a box of chocolates. You never know if you are going to smile, laugh, cringe, or have your heart beat straight out of your chest. I would say “Hustle” brings more smiles and laughs than anything else.
“Hustle” does not have quite the same laughs that you would get in say “Big Daddy” or “Happy Gilmore.” That said, the film occasionally has its moments of levity. And while Adam Sandler is known for being funny, I do not think that is the greatest strength in “Hustle.” The greatest strength in regard to “Hustle” is instead its captivation, its ability to inspire. I can say that after watching “Hustle,” it did not make me want to work out. It did not make me want to join the NBA. I am not much of an athlete and I am literally sitting on a bed right now with a party size pack of Lay’s Wavy chips as I type part of this review. But I think if I were a certain age, or in a certain mood, I would probably be inspired to partake in such activities if I had the proper motivation. Speaking of motivation, this is something that brings me to another strength of the film, how much it reminded me of my own life.
It is odd to think about, but as someone who is not exactly fit and eats fast food all the time, I somehow relate to the main baller of the film, Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez) (left). I will not dive into spoilers, but this film presents an issue on mental health, self esteem if you will. There is a key plot point in the film where we see Bo Cruz playing ball and someone in particular is “getting inside his head.” Obviously, the goto counter here would be to tough it out, not listen to a word this person says, which may say something about how men live with toxic masculinity but the film uses this issue to tell an effective story. It reminds me of why I sometimes fail to complete certain tasks or goals, it is either because I am not good enough at something, or someone on a variant of the receiving end decreases my motivation or makes me feel like I am not as skilled as I actually am. It is possibly why throughout my years in school I failed certain assignments. It is not because I am incapable of getting these things done. Sometimes I might be incapable (I am terrible with foreign languages), although that is not the point. But without dropping names, during my school years, there have been outside forces that brought me particular worries. This is also why I am not athletic material. It is not that I am incapable of handling being called silly names (What do you think I do here on Scene Before?), but this movie presents a case where being an athlete implies that you will only get better with what could perhaps be perceived as “tough love” and embracing each moment as if you were a statue.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the 2014 sensation “Whiplash,” where Miles Teller stars as a jazz student and the one thing standing in his way is an obnoxious teacher played by JK Simmons. Adam Sandler definitely plays a more encouraging coach compared to JK Simmons as the previously established teacher, but there are tiny glimmers of the relationship between Adam Sandler and Juancho Hernangómez’s characters that remind me of Teller and Simmons because Sandler occasionally relies on unusual tactics to teach Hernangómez how to be a better basketball player. Thankfully for Hernangómez’s noggin, Sandler never throws a chair at him. But sticking with the mental health theme, there is a point where Sandler calls the student’s mother a whore to mess with his head.
There are few problems I have with “Hustle,” although I would say that the movie does become a tad predictable at certain points. That is not to suggest I did not enjoy the ride, but as someone who has seen certain movies about athletes, I could tell where certain things may have been going. There are also certain trademarks of Bo Cruz’s character we see during the film that start off as a joke, become an important plot point, but by the end of the film, I am not necessarily thinking about it all that much, it almost feels like filler, but it barely qualifies as something that isn’t. That said, “Hustle” is worth a watch. I am not much of an athlete, but even I would say that this movie is not quite out of bounds.
In the end, “Hustle” is a fun, smile-inducing story about an aspiring athlete. It is a film where an American scout and a Spanish baller develop an unlikely bond filled with charisma, even if it is a business relationship. The film, to my surprise, starred some actual NBA athletes who had some genuine acting talent. I was delighted to know that Bo Cruz was portrayed by a forward with NBA experience. Anthony Edwards also makes an appearance in the film. No, not Goose from “Top Gun.” But I am talking about the Anthony Edwards who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their acting talents are beyond what I would have expected for professional basketball players, especially after seeing two “Space Jam” movies where the lead NBA players give laughable performances. To be fair though, the direction and script may have to do with such performances in those cases. Having said that, check out “Hustle” whenever you can, and I am going to give the movie a 7/10.
“Hustle” is now playing in select theatres and is now available on Netflix.
Thanks for reading this review! If you want to read more of my recent content, feel free to check out a post I did on the endless reasons why I cannot stop watching “Belle,” an anime from last year that may have warranted more repeat viewings than a vast majority of the movies I have watched throughout my life. It is that good, and in this 5,000 word post, I will tell you why. Also, speaking of “that good,” my next review is going to be for the all new film from Daniels, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” I finally got a chance to see this film in the cinema, just in the nick of time before it became available for streaming, and without going into detail, I have things to say. Plenty of them in fact. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Hustle?” What did you think about it? Or, here is a creative question, what is your favorite Adam Sandler movie involving sports? For me, I have to go with “Happy Gilmore.” Any movie where an out of shape dude punches Bob Barker in the face is worth at least one watch. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!