One thing to know about me is that, up until recently, my love for basketball only spawned from two sources: I have a teddy bear named Lebron James and one of my favorite songs in high school was “Swish Swish” by Katy Perry.
In my opinion, typical sports films tend to be over-dramatic and portray the featured athletes with such superiority that it seems like they could cure cancer by scoring the next touchdown or hitting the next home run. However, all of this could be resolved with just a splice of sarcasm and humor.
Luckily, the combination of Adam Sandler and basketball is the perfect example of a successful sports movie that could entertain anyone — even those who only go to sporting events for the food and overpriced gift shops.
Since Sandler has a background in comedy — both in film and on television — he is known as the slapstick-humor maestro, with his most beloved film being “Happy Gilmore.” Even though that 1996 film is a classic with ridiculously quotable lines, Sandler has so much more capability as an actor. His versatility was shown previously in the 2019 film “Uncut Gems” and is further proven to the audience in his latest release “Hustle.”
The film, which was released by Netflix on June 8 and directed by Jeremiah Zagar, focuses on a down-on-his-luck basketball scout Stanley Sugerman (Sandler), who discovers an amazing basketball player from Spain and proceeds to bring him to the States without his team’s approval. Sandler has one shot to prove his player, Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez), has what it takes to join the NBA by competing in the NBA Draft Combine.
Even though this film has the classic components of a sports film — slow-motion training shots, a nail-biting final game and a happy ending — it stands out from the rest due to the heart and passion put forward by Sandler.
Sandler’s devotion to the sport is evident throughout the film, even if you didn’t know he grew up an avid basketball fan and is frequently spotted at courtside seats during Knicks games. Sandler as a coach includes witty comebacks and snarky remarks, but he also shows boldness and devotedness in every scene due to the bond between him and Hernangomez’s character. Although Sandler puts Hernangomez through grueling training, the relationship blossoms when the duo strategizes how to deal with anxiety on the court — making the film feel like a real-life documentary. Sandler makes believable the notion that he is indeed a basketball coach, with the audience rooting for him but also dying for more laughter along the way.
Sandler knows that he is not Leonardo DiCaprio and this film shows he doesn’t want to stretch his versatility, either. But Sandler only reminds the viewer of his latent capabilities as an artist. A large personality was needed for this character so producer Lebron James approached Sandler with the script — knowing his love for the sport and persona on-screen would create the perfect mixture for success. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sandler said “They all knew I like hoop. I heard the premise, and I read the script, and I was like, ‘Yeah man, that sounds like something I’d be excited to do,’” with Sandler hopping on to serve as a producer as well.
Of course, if you’re a fan of classic sports movies, there is plenty of nonstop action and sweaty determination in “Hustle” besides Adam Sandler cursing in Spanish. There’s the added bonus of countless professional NBA players agreeing to be in the film, including Glen Anton “Doc” Rivers, Anthony Edwards and Seth Curry, who simply perform eye candy for any sports fanatic by dunking one ball after the next.
If you’re looking for a blend that incorporates the giggles from “Grown Ups” in a subtle way while also making any ESPN guru drool over the screen, “Hustle” is the film for you. Even though Sandler isn’t on the road toward an Oscar nomination, he is slowly building the credibility to be a key candidate for future dramedy performances. I mean in the end, isn’t it all about the hustle?
“Hustle” is available to stream on Netflix and showing in select movie theaters.