Hustle (2022). Photo: Netflix

Hustle (2022)

"Obsession is going to beat talent every time. You got all the talent in the world, but are you obsessed?" - Stanley Sugerman

It's always exciting to see a comedian come into their own as a dramatic actor. It is clear that Adam Sandler has made this transition and 2022's Hustle sets him up as a force to watch in the years ahead. A sports film that rises above the genre, this is a tremendous feel-good movie.

Well known for his goofy film roles immediately after leaving Saturday Night Live, Sandler has seriously stepped up his game in recent years. Punch Drunk Love was a critical darling, and 2019's Uncut Gems was one of that year's best films. When Sandler tones down the manic comedy and digs deeper into his emotional range, he can make his characters likable and, more importantly, believable and relatable.

In Hustle, Sandler stars as Stanley Sugerman, a mid-career scout for the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team. Rex Merrick, the owner of the club (played by Robert Duvall), trusts Stanley, but his egotistic son Vince often sways him. The son (played by Ben Foster) has it in for Stanley, and he serves as the film's antagonist. Vince thwarts Stanley's move into a long-coveted Assistant Coach gig - instead sending him back on the road to find the team's "missing final piece."

Sugerman indeed discovers a potential star in Bo Cruz, a diamond in the rough amateur player in Spain. Bo is portrayed by real-life NBA star Juancho Hernangómez. Sugerman's battle is to convince this young man to travel to Philadelphia and impress the team enough to get him signed. Just watching the process unfold here is exciting and realistic; it has a behind-the-scenes documentary feel, making the movie more visually compelling.

Hustle is a relatively simple sports flick. However, watching an emotional movie that clearly delivers on its promise is refreshing. In my opinion, some recent sports-themed movies have over-reached, trying to provide loftier messages or more profound social commentary. That is commendable, but the risks are higher, and the goal is harder to accomplish. Sandler, producer Lebron James, and director Jeremiah Zagar wisely keep this train rolling straight down the track, keeping the focus on the main characters.

A sports genre movie starring Adam Sandler will likely turn away many right from the jump - those who don't like sports films (of course) and those who still judge Sandler by his previous work. Hustle certainly has some comedic moments, and yes, it is a sports film, but it also has the smarts to rise above the cliches and focus on entertaining. Sandler, Hernangómez, and Foster make this rags to riches story exciting to watch, and by the end, one can't help but root for Sugerman and his hoops prodigy Bo Cruz.

One final note - it is great to see Robert Duvall cast here as Rex Merrick, the aging owner of the Philadelphia 76ers. He brings a gravitas to the movie that elevates the entire production. It's a brilliant casting choice, and the script uses his screen force perfectly. He's one of the silver screen's few remaining legends. Let's hope we continue to see him more in these important roles.

Hustle is a basketball movie that will thrill those who love the sport and surprise many who still haven't given Sandler his due. Give this one a shot when you're feeling blue or just could use an uplifting flick to lift your spirits. Hustle is an excellent feel-good movie with solid performances all-around.

Hustle (2022)
Directed by Jeremiah Zagar
Cast: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangómez, Robert Duvall, Ben Foster, Julius Erving, Queen Latifah, Robert Duvall, Heidi Gardner, Anthony Edwards, Jordan Hull, Kenny Smith
Review Grade: B

Hustle (2022). Photo: Netflix

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