Featuring one of the best Adam Sandler performances, Jeremiah Zagar’s Hustle is a well-paced crowd pleaser that will please Sandler fans as well as fans of the NBA.
Sandler stars as Stanley Sugarman, an international scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. Living life on the road searching for foreign players, Stan starts to feel burned out. The Sixers owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) recognizes Stan’s potential and promotes him to an assistant coach role. Following Rex’s death and the ascension of his son Vince (Ben Foster) to owner, he is forced to once again go on the road.
On an assignment in Spain, Stan stumbles across a pickup game at a local court and discovers the talent of Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez). Convinced of his potential, Stan attempts to convince Vince but he is unmoved. Stan takes it upon himself to bring him to the States and train him for the NBA draft.
More than anything, the film is a love letter to basketball. At the same time, the film doesn’t go to deep to alienate those who are not basketball junkies. This film was obviously made with the full cooperation of the NBA and features a host of cameos from basketball legends, current players, coaches, and personalities.
Sandler is fully committed to the role. For once, he wears his age and experience in a film role. He doesn’t get too wacky and his occasional joking fits into the narrative well. His chemistry with Hernangómez is complementary and easy. Hernangómez, despite being an actual NBA player, gets a few opportunities to stretch his dramatic muscles and performs admirably.
Foster fits nicely into a swarming villain role, while NBA player Anthony Edwards is dynamically charasmatic as a rival to Cruz. Former NBA player and TV analyst Kenny Smith plays a friendly agent to Stan an provides a nice connection between the NBA world and the lead pair.
The film is not as polished as you would expect from a Sandler film, which adds an added sense of realism. Zagar shoots plenty in natural light while well-lit gyms differentiate the haves from the have-nots of the basketball world.
Though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Hustle is a nice reminder that Sandler can really bring the goods when he is invested in the material. It’s one of his best performances.
Hustle is now streaming on Netflix
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