Hustle movie review: Adam Sandler has all the right moves in Netflix’s solid sports drama

Adam Sandler was once a cautionary tale of what streaming could become. And his early output for Netflix– marked by unseen disasters like The Ridiculous 6, The Do-Over, Sandy Wexler – rightly predicted the streamer’s future, which would be defined by a McDonald’s-esque approach to filmmaking. But in true Sandler fashion, he also kept up an (almost) equally steady stream of acclaimed gems. Call it his side-hustle, if you will.

An early adopter of online entertainment – Sandler was one of the first major Hollywood stars to make the move to streaming, having understood that his audiences would rather watch his fart-funny movies at home. The actor has long been associated with ‘comedies’ from the bottom that are often harder to fathom than instructional videos about the inner mechanics of conveyor belts. The overwhelming sense was that Sandler’s entire comedic filmography – all three decades – was an elaborate practical joke designed to expose the film industry’s hunger for hits, the public’s hunger for trash, and how easily both can be exploited. .

However, he stunned people with his dramatic reach from time to time in films like Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me and ironically Funny People. His latest in a new wave of serious cinema, following The Meyerowitz Stories and Uncut Gems, is aptly titled Hustle, a Netflix sports drama in which Sandler conclusively proves that he is not just one of the most talented American protagonists of recent years. two decades – comedic or otherwise – but that he is probably one of the most accomplished flimflammers the film industry has ever seen. All those Happy Madison comedies were definitely an ironic trick, weren’t they?

In Hustle, he stars as Stanley Sugerman, a legendary fictional basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who has spent his daughter’s last nine birthdays on the road, living in five-star hotels and single-handedly keeping the fast food business alive. But now that he has reached the end of his life and has ambitions to move into a career in coaching, he wants out. His new boss, played by the ever-reliable Ben Foster in a particularly scenic chewing performance, has other plans. He sends Stanley on a last-ditch mission to identify and recruit the game’s next big star, or lose his job.

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In a way, Stanley is much like the High Lamas who set out on quests across Tibet to locate the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. There is certainly a spiritual side to Stanley’s unwavering commitment to the cause, even if the actual process of finding the next big thing in basketball is dominated by mind-numbing grind. His desperate search takes him to Spain, where he spots a lanky street baller named Bo Cruz, played by real-life NBA athlete Juancho Hernangómez. Bo lives with his mother and young daughter, is a construction worker by day and at night teases the upstart on the basketball courts to earn easy money. This is as much Bo’s redemption story as the journey of Stanley’s hero.

Hustle hits all the notes you’d expect, but it’s more unconventional in its approach to stereotypes of sports movies than it had to be. Of course, there are endless training montages and intense face-offs; there’s even an Adonis Creed-esque “villain” who puts himself in Bo’s path like a human obstacle with robotic fidelity. But director Jeremiah Zagar’s fluid camerawork and strong tone control—this is slick entertainment first and foremost—keep things moving at a brisk pace, carefully imposing conflict when necessary, and culminating in the psychological slam dunk that only can bring emotional relief. As solid as the film is, it can’t resist the temptation of some unstable fish-out-of-water humor at Bo’s expense (though ironically, it’s Bo who burns a hole in Stanley’s pocket with his unchecked spending on room service).

Apart from the two of them, the screenplay by Will Fetters and Taylor Materne broadly paints the supporting characters. You always know who’s a friend and who’s into Stanley and his protégé. For example, Foster’s only job is to mock Bo every 10 seconds. And the actor knows exactly what kind of performance is required of him, and milks it like he’s staring the cancellation right in the face.

Speaking of great acting, Sandler is quite outstanding here. Note his wordless performance in a pivotal early scene, when he learns of the death of a mentor figure. Zagar holds Sandler’s face as the realization hits, then turns to disbelief and then sheer sadness. It’s a real showcase for his talents, and our biannual reminder that this is the kind of creative energy Sandler should really expend.

Director – Jeremiah Zagar
Form – Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Ben Foster, Queen Latifah, Robert Duvall
Rating – 4/5

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