Adam Sandler stars as Stanley Sugarman, a tired basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who travels the world in search of talent. When he stumbles across Spaniard Bo Cruz, he knows he’s found something special.
“Guys in their 50s don’t have dreams, they have nightmares and eczema,” Sugarman says, as he boards another plane in search of international talent. In office for more than twenty years, Sugarman’s dream was to be a coach on the field. But just when it looks like his debt has been well and truly paid, the owner’s seedy son (Ben Foster) sends him back on the road to find a new star.
While scouting in Spain, the player Sugarman is supposed to be watching is injured, so he leaves the arena and heads into an excited crowd gathered around a street basketball game.
There he spots the incredible talent of Bo Cruz – played by NBA player Juancho Hernangómez – with his colossal 6’7 frame running the show. Sugarman knows he’s got his man, but it’s never as easy as it seems.
As a basketball fanatic – and bearer of these ridiculously big shorts – ‘Hustle’ sounds like a movie Sandler had been waiting for for years. Stanley’s role comes naturally to him and the emotional depth he achieves is impressive.
It’s not a new discovery to discover that Sandler has the wherewithal to be a brilliant actor when he’s not playing a whiny man-child. “Uncut Gems” and “The Meyorowitz Stories” recently confirmed this fact. But her performance in ‘Hustle’ adds another string to her bow. Sandler turns the dial down and uses subtle humor and clever comedic timing to complete an emotional and believable character. Stanley is empathetic, good-hearted, and down-to-earth throughout. It’s almost as if Sandler took his foot off the accelerator by fully fueling the shtick of his past roles and just playing himself.
Alongside Sandler, 26-year-old Herangómez gives a performance pretty much in line with what you’d expect from someone who has never played before. But he rises to the occasion in certain scenes involving the characters’ family and background plots. It bounces off Sandler’s playful side nicely in their scenes together, creating a healthy father and son dynamic.
We also get some decent performances from the underutilized Queen Latifah, who plays Stanley’s wife, Teresa. Foster as Vince Merrick, Robert Duvall’s slimy son of Rex, is suitably infuriating, doing well to get his sarcastic through with so little screen time.
If there are any complaints, it’s that we don’t get much of a supporting cast in this two-man show. However, we do get a boatload of NBA cameos which, if you’re familiar with the sport, can get slightly exhausting. Anthony Edwards, who plays a bad league prospect who clashes with Bo more than once, stands out though.
Sports movies are a niche in their own right and it’s easy to fall into superficial clichés. “Hustle” of course skirts closes the cookie-cutter archetypes of the genre and the plot is a fairly predictable ride from start to finish. But it’s hard not to indulge in the graceful way he goes about it. There are a lot montages of Bo running up a hill and performing endless workouts to motivating music, but once you know it’s the game you signed up for, you’ll be more than happy to play.
Despite the cliched elements of “Hustle,” it’s a deftly directed film that achieves its predictability with smooth professionalism, taking you on a journey around the world that gives outsiders a real insight into the behind-the-scenes affairs of a major sport. . held, far from the glamor of the court.
Guys in their 50s might not have dreams, but if Sandler keeps putting on performances like this, maybe he can start dreaming once awards season rolls around.
‘Hustle’ preview netflix Wednesday, June 8.