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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Hustle - Adam Sandler, Queen Latifa, Robert Duvall, Ben Foster - Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the Clark County School District.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Can it be? No cheap shots, no frat boy/toilet humor. No objectified women. No screeching hysterics. Adam Sandler’s new film, Hustle, features a sympathetic and likeable protagonist, a loving family man and dedicated mentor.

Stan Sugerman (Sandler) an aging, weary (get this) international sports scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, has a job that requires him to do some of the least glamourous globetrotting, full of hotel rooms, fast food bags and pizza boxes. He logs weeks and months on the road with little time for his wife Teri (Queen Latifah) and daughter Alex (Jordan Hull), scouting future 76ers talent, skyscraper dudes that dwarf him in stature and fitness.

Once back in Philadelphia, Stan attends a franchise meeting with top sports executives. Participants engage in rapid-fire shop talk, spewing stats and qualifications of potential players. The scene introduces the team’s owner, Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) and his garrulous son, Vin (Ben Foster). The pair disagree about the merits of a German prospect Stan has just observed. Rex agrees with Stan, not Vin, which sets up the conflict to come.

Rex promotes Stan to assistant coach, a job that will allow him to stay home with his family for much longer periods of time. Almost immediately, Rex dies, and his son Vin takes over the 76ers franchise with a different vision for the team, so Stan is back on the international road once more, scouting for talent.

In Spain, Stan encounters a phenom playing (in Timberland work boots) for money. He somewhat humorously pursues Boaz Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) and brings him to America, leaving behind Bo’s mother (Maria Botto) and daughter (Ainhoa Pillet).

Stan is the one person who believes in Bo, willing to smash obstacles, lose his job, pay his expenses to make others believe too. But, like the singing cartoon frog, Bo can’t seem to perform when there are important onlookers, like scouts, agents, or owners observing. An assault charge in Bo’s past makes Vin unwilling to sign him to the team, but Stan won’t give up.

The rest of the film follows Stan’s attempts to get NBA executives to appreciate Bo’s athletic gifts. Bo is “sensitive” and needs anger management or at least some lessons in meditation to make him goad-proof. Stan puts him on a grueling fitness regimen. Cue training montage: scenes of Bo running, dribbling, lifting weights. Yes, it’s reminiscent of Rocky, which Stan remarks upon. Stan also uses social media to spread action shots of Bo in pickup games, creating a buzz and grassroots demand for the unsigned athlete.

NBA fans will recognize both current and retired players like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Dr. J. (Julius Irving), Kenny Smith, Anthony Edwards, Kyle Lowry, Mark Jackson, Moe Wagner, Allen Iverson, Matisse Thybulle, Dirk Nowitzki, Khris Middleton, Aaron Gordon, Trae Young, Jordan Clarkson, Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Boban Marjanović, and Luka Dončić. There’s even an appearance by Superfan James Goldstein.

Most of the players appear as themselves, but Anthony Edwards and Kenny Smith appear as NBA player Kermit Milts and sports agent Leon Rich, respectively. Note: Watch for Jaleel White (Urkel!) as one of the 76ers execs for another example that, like Sandler, actors can evolve from zany, comedic personas into roles that are light years from where they started and what they’re known for.

Where’s Lebron, you might ask? Behind the scenes – as producer, along with Sandler and a handful of others.

Director Jeremiah Zagar (We The Animals) and screenwriters Taylor Materne (Dominoes) and Will Felters (A Star Is Born) create a predictable story arc and outcome which still manages to capture viewer interest, even those who don’t follow professional basketball. A little of the old Sandler leaks out in snarky insults and quick-witted quips, but he’s the draw here, exuding a weary, understated demeanor that keeps the viewer invested.

The title refers to Bo playing street games for money and also the work he has to do on himself to be deemed good enough to play for the NBA. It’s also a nod to Stan’s all or nothing push to get Bo recognized for his talent.

More satisfying than sentimental, Hustle is worth a gander for NBA fans and those who appreciate Sandler’s easy believability in dramatic roles.


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