If I were to be completely honest I would have to admit to dismissing “Uncle Drew” from the very first glance. The movie (from director Charles Stone III) had all the markings of a shallow, cameo-clogged sports comedy much like others we’ve seen before. Even worse was the idea of putting tons of makeup and prosthetics on NBA basketball players and casting them over professional actors.
But here’s the funny thing – “Uncle Drew” isn’t half bad. It’s miles from being a great movie, but with so many things working against it right out the gate, it’s genuinely surprising to see it turn out to be as entertaining as it is. A lot of it can be traced to the undeniable fun the cast and crew are having. It’s an enthusiasm that bleeds over into the movie and the audience. It can’t hide every blemish, but it does make for a pretty enjoyable watch.
Lil Rel Howery plays Dax Winslow, an ambitious streetball coach with his eyes on winning the Rucker 50 Championship. In case you didn’t know, the Rucker 50 is an annual tournament held at Rucker Park in Brooklyn. Rucker is called “the epicenter of the streetball universe” and the tournament has a prestigious and celebrated history.
For Dax winning the tourney is paramount. First, the $10,000 grand prize will keep him in the good graces of his loud, obnoxious, money-grubbing girlfriend Jess (fittingly played by Tiffany Haddish). Second, it gives him another shot at beating his arch rival and 7-time tournament champ Mookie (Nick Kroll). This year Dax has the team to do it thanks to a young streetball superstar (Aaron Gordon). That is until Mookie sweeps in and steals the team out from under him.
A reluctant but desperate Dax seeks out Uncle Drew (played by NBA star Kyrie Irving), an old man but still a heckuva basketball player and a Rucker legend. Dax convinces Uncle Drew to play but under the condition that it’s with his old team. The two set out on a road trip to ‘get the gang back together’ for one more run at the Rucker. The elderly gang includes Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller), Boots (Nate Robinson), and Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal).
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where the movie goes from there. It’s laughably predictable and often uninspired. Look no further than the barbershop and African-American church scenes both of which seem copied and pasted from other movies. But looking for narrative depth and nuance in a film like this is unrealistic. It’s more of a ‘Who’s Who’ of NBA stars and ESPN personalities with a playful sense of humor.
So what makes “Uncle Drew” work aside from the aforementioned infectious fun the cast is having? For starters the film is unashamedly good-natured which feels right for this kind of movie. Also, I found the performances of players Irving, Webber, Shaq, Miller, and Robinson to be surprisingly charming. And I admit to laughing at some of the NBA inside jokes – Shaq’s character saying “pass it Kobe” or Chris Webber’s character being told “We got no more timeouts”.
It all makes for a fun little escape with a pretty big heart. Corny, formulaic and unoriginal for sure, but not a terrible way to spend 100 minutes. Not bad for movie inspired by a prankish series of Pepsi commercials.
VERDICT – 3 STARS