Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Screenwriter: Taylor Materne, Will Fetters
Cast: Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, Juancho Hernangómez, Ben Foster
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/1/22
Opens: June 8, 2022 Streaming on Netflix

“Hustle” is as commercial a movie as you might expect from Adam Sandler; slick, “for the whole family” (except for some cuss words), some terrific shots on the court, a movie that allows several NBA team members playing themselves to chalk up another fifteen minutes of fame each. Still, it’s wholly predictable, especially if you’ve seen “Waterboy,” as did every Adam Sandler fan. In that film, the title character, on the retarded side and with a religious mother who is overly protective, is hired as a waterboy for a college football team with a long train of losses. The coach discovers his ability as a tackler, puts him on the team as a lineman, and of course the team goes on to victory.

The trajectory here is similar. Stanley Sugarman (Adam Sandler) is a washed-up coach whose job is to scout the world looking for basketball talent for the Philadelphia team. He has no luck in Germany but simply watching a street game in Villaverde, Spain, he is amazed at the talent shown by Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez). The street-smart player is some seven feet tall with a wing spread about the same. He shoots well, and more important he blocks every shot by the opposing team (which makes me wonder whether the simple fact of height with its ability to knock out every ball heading for the eight-foot-high basket serves as a natural flaw in the game).

He recruits the twenty-two-year-old, pays for his flights from his own money since the decision makers back home which include an unnamed fellow played by Ben Foster) are unimpressed by Sugarman’s record. Stanley even gives the fellow a seat in business class while he settles in for economy. Being a family film, “Hustle” naturally includes Bo’s own family in Spain, who are surprisingly adept in English while Bo is himself fluent in the language—unusual for a street lad with just a taste of a Spanish accent.

After several trials, Stanley puts Bo through the paces, forcing him to get up at 3:30 a.m. to run up hills in Philadelphia and giving him significant time on the courts. Bo’s short temper leads him to be written off for the team after he starts a fight with an opponent who goads him by insulting his family (which makes one wonder how this lad after weeks in our country understands what is meant when someone on the other team talks about how he “shacked up” with Bo’s mother).

You’ve got to wonder how many takes were filmed by Zak Mulligan to show off a Bo who scarcely misses a single three-point score. Lest anyone in the audience think that Juancho Hernangomez is just a player in the mean Spanish streets, know that he is currently with the Salt Lakers Utah Jazz team and whose father played for Real Madrid, his younger sister with the Estudiantes’ youth team, his mother an international basketball player, and brother compared to Spanish NBA stars Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol. Ringers indeed.

The relationship between Sandler and Hernangomez is the core of the movie; the former acting as the seven-footer’s mentor while the success of Adam Sandler’s character Stanley Sugarman depends on the player’s controlling his hot temper. Lebron James co-produced with Sandler.

117 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *