'Hustle' a winning sports movie from Adam Sandler

Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service (TNS)

A new Adam Sandler film arrives on Netflix Wednesday, which is no surprise given his long-standing contract with the streamer, but while most of Sandler's Netflix output has been lowbrow comedy, his newest film, “Hustle” is a far cry from that.

Perhaps emboldened by his award-winning turn in the Safdie brothers’ gambling thriller “Uncut Gems,” Sandler delivers a fantastic dramatic turn in “Hustle,” a film that incorporates his well-known love for basketball. NBA fans will rejoice in “Hustle,” which stars Sandler as a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. On a recruiting trip to Spain, he spots an unknown talent hustling street ball games for cash, a towering young man named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez of the Utah Jazz), and he risks it all to bring him back to the States, in hopes of securing Bo a lucrative NBA contract and a coaching spot for himself.

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The young Hernangomez holds his own against Sandler in his first film role, and the lineup of NBA stars in the supporting cast is nothing less than jaw-dropping, from legends like Julius “Dr. J” Erving to rising stars like Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who plays one of Bo’s main antagonists. “Hustle,” directed with verve and style by Jeremiah Zagar (“We The Animals”) is a classic underdog sports movie, replete with training montages and triumphs galore.

Any sports movie set in Philly makes one think of Sylvester Stallone’s iconic 1976 flick “Rocky” (available to rent on all digital platforms), and “Hustle” even references that film. But with its modern, gritty style and flair, it’s closer to something like the “Rocky” legacy sequel “Creed” from 2015, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, who similarly trains in the streets of Philadelphia, like Bo. “Creed” is available to rent on all digital platforms.

Though vastly different in tone, Sandler’s acclaimed performance in 2019’s “Uncut Gems” is another movie where basketball drives his character insane, but to much more destructive ends. Sandler is hypnotic as the compulsively gambling diamond salesman Howard Ratner, and while “Uncut Gems” is two hours and 15 minutes of anxiety and stress, it’s absolutely worth the ride. Rent it on all digital platforms.

Juancho Hernangomez and Adam Sandler star in "Hustle." The movie is available on Netflix beginning Wednesday.

Of course there’s no shortage of great basketball films out there, but check out Steven Soderbergh’s “High Flying Bird,” also streaming on Netflix. Shot on an iPhone and starring the great André Holland as a sports agent, “High Flying Bird” gets into the nitty-gritty of the sports biz in the same way that “Hustle” does, but without the training montages. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic film that will delight basketball fans.

For a basketball comedy that utilizes NBA stars as well as “Hustle” does, look no further than the unassumingly hilarious “Uncle Drew,” which stars Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets in character as Uncle Drew, alongside former NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller and Nate Robinson, as squad of aging basketball players competing in a tournament. Rent it on all digital platforms.

While “Hustle” is sure to be a draw for basketball fans, it’s so charming, well-executed and filled with love for the game that it will appeal to much wider audiences, and just might make some new NBA fans along the way.

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