I expected little from “Uncle Drew,” a film that looked like a one-trick pony filled with a roster of non-actors. Boy, was I surprised! This family-friendly, feel-good movie is a cheery ray of positivity that we could use more of right now.
After draining his life savings to enter a team in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem, Dax (Lil Rel Howery) is dealt a series of unfortunate setbacks, including losing his team to his longtime rival (Nick Kroll). Desperate to win the tournament and the cash prize, Dax stumbles upon the legendary player Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) and convinces him to return to the court one last time. The two men embark on a road trip to round up Drew’s old basketball squad (Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie) and prove that a group of septuagenarians can still win the big one.
The film has a positive message about the joys of basketball and the value of senior citizens and longtime friendships. Life lessons for kids and adults are highlighted too, from respecting your elders to never being too stubborn to apologize. The clichéd underdog tropes like “you’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” of course make an appearance, but they’re presented with earnestness. By casting real-life athletes who live and breathe basketball, director Charles Stone III fosters an atmosphere of sincerity that shows how sports can make the world a better place.
Everything isn’t a slam dunk, however. There’s an unusually bland and unfunny performance from it-girl Tiffany Haddish (that feels more like an extended cameo than a meaty role), and a general corny vibe throughout. Some of the jokes land with a thud. But the biggest surprise here is that a crew of NBA All-Stars turn out to be great comedic actors. They’re funny (if sometimes a little stiff with the line delivery), and it’s extra satisfying to delight in the sports action shots. There isn’t much better than watching Shaq, in full geriatric makeup, toss basket after basket against other legendary players.
Basketball fans need to see this movie as they are the intended audience, but even non-athletic types can find plenty to enjoy. “Uncle Drew” is a delightful summertime surprise in the sports film genre.