Hustle is a 2022 sports drama film directed by Jeremiah Zagar, written by Taylor Materne and Will Fetters, produced by Happy Madison Productions, SpringHill Company, and Roth/Kirschenbaum Films, and distributed by Netflix. It stars Adam Sandler and Juacho Hernangómez.
"Obsession is going to beat talent every time." - Stanley Sugerman
Worn-out scout Stanley Sugerman is searching for the missing piece to send the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Championship. On a trip to Spain, he discovers Bo Cruz, a mild-mannered giant that is ridiculously good at basketball. When Sugerman takes him back to America, the two of them face adversity and doubt in the push towards preparing Bo for the NBA Draft.
It's kind of funny how Adam Sandler is supposed to be a comedy actor, but he's so much better in dramatic roles.
And, to be honest, he's better than anything else in this movie. He has a magnetic charm that I rarely see in this smaller drama films. He has what I call the "blockbuster charm". It feels like he was plucked out of a quippy blockbuster, but then meshed together with raw, human emotion. Definitely one of his best performances, and easily, easily the best thing about this film.
The movie also does something really interesting. Besides Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, and Ben Foster, the supporting cast is filled out by basketball players, both former and current. That's super cool. Is it a little bit distracting at times? Sure. Anthony Edwards and Kenny Smith aren't actors, so it was weird to see them in legitimate major roles, but it's kind of fun. It was almost like the No Way Home of the NBA. There are a bunch of NBA faces that make appearances in here, from GMs to coaches to players. It's fun if you are an NBA fan.
I'll be honest: besides the gimmick of the basketball players and personalities rounding out most of the cast, Hustle isn't anything special. It's a relatively familiar film, but it executes those familiar beats well for the most part. It has the emotion that you'd expect along with the inspiration. Most of that comes from Adam Sandler's great performance.
It may sound like I dislike this movie more than I do, because I have a lot of problems with it, so let me say this here: Hustle isn't terrible. It isn't great either. It executes individual moments well. It feels like it has the payoff and satisfaction that you want. And those moments work for me. If a sports movie executes the right beats the right way, it will be watchable at least. And that's what Hustle is.
The problems with Hustle begin at the core of the film: the script for this movie simply isn't that good. It's overflowing with cliches and inspirational speeches that fall entirely flat. The screenwriters tried to integrate social media and modern stuff into this film, but really don't do a good job at it. They don't really make it clear what Adam Sandler's motivation to coach this kid is. It's riddled with plot holes and lazy writing, and it really bothered me.
A bad script can sometimes be redeemed by a good director. Or it can be made worse by a bad director. Hustle is the latter. The direction in this film is...kind of awful. The cinematography is extremely strange. Sometimes, when I criticize a movie, I will say "At least the shots are in focus.". Shockingly, a good percentage of the shots in Hustle are not in focus. There are also these extremely trippy shots and edits that they use when the characters are actually on the court that just didn't work. There's also a section of the film where there is a 15-MINUTE training montage. I kid you not. That is way too long. I don't know what this director was going for, but he totally airballed. Pun entirely intended.
The film also sets up certain subplots and seems to just abandon them or forget about them halfway through the movie. The owner of the 76ers is set up as a complete jerk from the beginning. There's a conflict involving him that reaches a peak about a third of the way through the film...but there's no de-escalation. There's no resolution to that plot thread. It's just left hanging. I also feel like Adam Sandler's family is shoe-horned into this movie. Queen Latifah's character is written extremely poorly. Some of her lines (and delivery) made me cringe. The main plot wasn't super compelling in the first place, but the subplots were a complete mess.
This film is also pretty much the most predictable movie I've ever seen. Besides the fact that it's just a sports movie that follows the sports template beat by beat, the film gets very repetitive at a certain point. It can't come up with its own original ideas. It just follows the sports template to a T, and when that strategy runs out, it recycles its own story beats. Ugh. After the first twenty minutes of the movie, I probably could've actually given you a written out plot synopsis of how the rest of the film was going to play out. It was painfully predictable.
As I've said ad nauseam, this film follows the generic sports movie formula step by step. You've got the training montage. You've got the motivational speeches. You've got the family dinner. You've got the last-minute underdog moment. If you've seen the film, you probably know exactly which scenes I'm referring to. If you haven't seen the film, you probably also know exactly what I'm referring to. That's because this movie is simply uninspired. It's a mediocre at best execution of the sports template with a great central performance.
Should you watch Hustle?
If you like sports movies (lookin' at you, Logan), sure. Check this out. If you don't want to watch something that you've probably seen a million other times, then skip it. My recommendation is to watch Rocky or Invincible. Those are underdog sports movies that kill it. Hustle doesn't kill it.
Final Thoughts and Score
Hustle will be fun for NBA fans and for people who are suckers for sports movies. Everyone else will probably be yawning on their couch while thinking about the other seven hundred million movies that are exactly like Hustle.
I will go Sour here. Age range is 10+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
Fun Factor: 6/10
Directed by Jeremiah Zagar
Rated R for language
Released on June 3, 2022
1 hour and 57 minutes
Adam Sandler as Stanley Sugerman
Juancho Hernangómez as Bo Cruz
Queen Latifah as Teresa Sugerman
Ben Foster as Vince Merrick Kenny Smith as Leon Rich
Anthony Edwards as Kermit Wilts
Robert Duvall as Rex Merrick
Jordan Hull as Alex Sugerman
Heidi Gardner as Kat Merrick María Botto as Paola Cruz
Ainhoa Pillet as Lucia Cruz
Jaleel White as Blake
Mo Wagner as Haas
Boban Marjanovic as Big Serbian