7/10 Following “Uncut Gems” and now this, Adam Sandler seems to (wisely) be alternating between his usual, lowbrow comedic fare (the mediocre “Hubie Halloween” was his most recent movie before this one) and more serious films where he can flex his acting muscles. While Sandler has plenty of comedic classics from the 1990s and early 2000s, I will take serious Sandler over comedic Sandler any day of the week at this point in his career. Sandler has shown he can do great dramatic work over the years with films like “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Reign Over Me” and “Hustle” continues with that trend. Sports films are a dime a dozen and while there are some clichés in this film, the meaningful performances and excellent production aspects paired with a strong script, make this film better than it has the right to be. “Hustle” follows a basketball scout named Stanley Sugerman (Sandler) who is on the search for the next big NBA star. He finds one in Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) but struggles to get Cruz onto the Philadelphia 76ers due to the villainous owner, Vince Merrick (Ben Foster). I enjoyed that while most sports related films show the glamour of their respective league, “Hustle” goes out of its way to show how miserable the life of a scout can be. Scouts have to travel around the world looking for talent, which often leads nowhere. Living life on the road from hotel to hotel and plane ride to plane ride, Sugerman misses his daughter’s birthdays and has extremely limited time with his wife. I appreciated how authentic the film felt in everything from the day to day job work to the interactions between characters. Both Sugerman and Cruz are well developed, layered characters who are certainly more than their jobs/aspirations. Director Jeremiah Zagar does a great job at balancing everything in the film and provides the film with a fantastic look. Thanks to modern technology (drones for example), the cinematography and the camera angles we get to see during training and actual games are immensely impressive and show a new side of basketball I have never seen on film before. The film looks so slick and the score from Dan Deacon perfectly sets the mood/tone. The film even has a ton of cameos from real basketball legends both current and past so NBA fans will be excited every time a familiar face pops up. As for what doesn’t work, besides the aforementioned clichés (it wouldn’t be a sports film without a training montage highlighting improvements over time), there were a couple of other minor flaws. Supporting characters like Sugerman’s wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and Vince Merrick get very little development. Teresa is fairly limited to the supportive wife role while Merrick is just a prick with little explanation as to why. There is also a line complimenting LeBron James which normally in a basketball centered film would be fine but considering that he is a producer it feels self masturbatory, like LeBron is patting his own back (“Make sure to include a line in my film about how great I am!”). There are also several jokes about Sandler’s weight but seeing as how he isn’t fat (he has a basic dad bod), these jokes seem to fall flat and make little sense. Those few complaints aside, “Hustle” ends up being both entertaining and moving. While it covers familiar sports territory, it does so in a visually stimulating way with terrific performances and a lot of heart. Hustle on over to Netflix to check this out.

#Hustle&Foe / #50FirstDunks / #TrainOverMe / #LackOfCruzControl / #BrownSuger / #SearchingForSugerman

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