The long-awaited basketball drama (by us, anyway) filmed in Philadelphia Hustle is finally making its way to the masses, and the critics are pouring in. And so far they are pretty good.
Hustle, which began filming around town in the fall of 2020, stars Adam Sandler as schlubby Stanley Sugerman, an underdog scout for the 76ers who wants to get off the road and spend more time with his wife, Teresa (Queen Latifah), and her daughter, Alex (Jordan Hull). On a scouting trip to Spain, he finds underdog Bo Cruz (Utah Jazz forward Juancho Hernangómez), a street player with a heart of gold and a troubled past — and quite possibly his ticket to an assistant coaching position with the Sixers.
If this sounds a bit cliché and predictable, you’re not alone. Most reviewers seem to agree, but say it’s not worth watching. Instead, as the AV Club’s Courtney Howard writes, elements like compelling characters, a polished script, and the cinematic craftsmanship of director Jeremiah Zagar (Philadelphia native and son of artist Isaiah Zagar ) “more than make up for its narrative familiarity”.
“There will be absolutely no surprises here, and telling you now is not a spoiler. And yet, I’m not saying Hustle should be easily written off,” writes Chris Evangelista of Slashfilm, adding that the film often feels like Rocky Where Creed.
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman agrees, writing that Hustle nod directly to Rocky at some point, but follows the sports movie formula like Million Dollar Arm and Jerry McGuire. And although he avoids climbing the steps of the art museum, writes David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter, it follows that the tradition of Philadelphia classics is to have a “newcomer in the rough who goes up against the pros”.
Despite Hustle Being a basketball-focused movie, you don’t have to know the sport intimately to love it, according to Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt. The story, on the contrary, is what shines, so much so that its “solid screenplay…takes you into the story of the underdog on a human level,” writes Rooney.
But given the deep bench of cameos from NBA stars like Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the great Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Boban Marjanović of the Dallas Mavericks, the effort to attract basketball fans may be wasted “on those who wouldn’t know Steph Curry if he watched them from a Wheaties box,” writes the AV’s Howard Club.
If you’re familiar with basketball, some reviewers note that the film may feel a bit more authentic thanks to the cameos. When done well, they work to “reinforce an essentially standard underdog narrative,” writes Robert Abele of The Wrap. Or not, if you ask Nina Metz of the Chicago Tribune.
“The film, directed by Philadelphia native Jeremiah Zagar, feels like the opposite of an insider’s take on the sport,” Metz writes. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, meanwhile, notes that the endearing and impeccable image of the NBA which Hustle portrays him looking “a bit like a corporate promotion for the NBA”.
But let the cameos work in terms of authenticity, Zagar was able to get useful, if not good, performances from NBA stars — a skill the director honed in his 2018 review darling. We the animals, which features several non-professional actors, writes Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter. Hernangómez, he adds, is actually “tremendously likeable and magnetic in his first on-screen role” as Cruz.
And Sandler, Variety’s Gleiberman writes, is particularly good, having “learned to pour every bit of himself into a role” in his post-Uncut Gems career. So don’t expect “something particularly representative of Sandler’s work” a la Happy Gilmore Where The Waterboywrites Abele of The Wrap.
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So it’s good ? Well, at movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, Hustle pulls a 90% positive, but that might not be everyone’s thing. Luckily, you can decide for yourself – the movie is in select theaters now (including several in the Philadelphia area) and will be available to stream via Netflix starting Wednesday.