Hoop! There it is
Team work makes the dream work in the light-hearted basketball comedy ‘Uncle Drew’
Kyrie Irving in “Uncle Drew”
While there is what some would describe as a plot to “Uncle Drew,” the new film directed by Charles Stone III comes off more like a series of extended ESPY Awards skits. The athletes loosen up and make light of themselves while also showing off why they are worth millions in endorsements. And it should feel this way. After all, Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving reprises the role of Uncle Drew, which originated as a series of commercials to hawk Pepsi-Max. It’s from this inauspicious beginning that “Uncle Drew” the movie can’t quite escape it’s soda-pop marketing conceit where corporate sponsors like Nike, Oberto pizza, and Pepsi are frequently name dropped. It’s hard to tell if it’s sincere or just self-parody.
The film kicks off with a “30 for 30”-style mini documentary that tells the legend of Uncle Drew—a street ball legend who, along with his team, reaches the height of the game only to implode and all but vanish. It’s a clever framing device that couches this goofy movie filled with comically absurd moments in a place of reality. They call that verisimilitude.
Milton “Lil Rel” Howery plays Dax, a life-long fan of the game that dumped his life savings into coaching a team competing in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament—a tournament that not only carries a hefty cash prize, but also the respect of every player who steps foot on the blacktop. His dreams are shattered when his star player, his girl, and his clothes are stolen by a childhood rival played with delicious douchebaggery by Nick Kroll. Still wanting a shot at the Rucker, Dax finds himself face to face with the legend himself: Uncle Drew. He’s much older but no less capable of schooling the loud-mouthed, disrespectful punks who confuse big-talk with actual skill.
It is a lot of fun watching athletes like Irving, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, and Shaq ham it up underneath all the prosthetics. Even WNBA star Lisa Leslie gets a deserving assist as the preacher’s wife with a little game of her own. And while there’s something irresistibly entertaining about dressing up as an old person, waxing nostalgic about R&B vs. hip-hop, and schooling the disrespectful youngins, there’s not enough Spirit Gum and latex to hide the flimsy attempt to draw out the film. The conflict surrounding Dax’s anxiety on whether this team of arthritic ballers will be ready to compete is tame, yet when it comes time, Uncle Drew and team put on a veritable clinic of street ball.
That’s when the real show begins. After all, that’s what we go to see. Watching these all-stars perform with virtuosity and verve is where the ad-agency derived idea of Uncle Drew comes alive.