Hustle (2022) – Movie Review


Directed by Jeremiah Zagar.
Starring Adam Sandler, Robert Duvall, Ben Foster, Queen Latifah, Jordan Hull, Juancho Hernangomez, María Botto, Ainhoa ​​Pillet, Kenny Smith, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Jaleel White, Raúl Castillo, and Anthony Edwards.


After discovering a once-in-a-lifetime player with a rocky past abroad, a down on his luck basketball scout (Adam Sandler) takes it upon himself to bring the phenom to the States without his team’s approval. Against the odds, they have one final shot to prove they have what it takes to make it in the NBA.


You know Adam Sandler is in an interesting phase of his career when even one of his Netflix distributed Happy Madison productions is a dramatic vehicle with only traces of the comedian’s trademark juvenile humor. Hustle also sees Adam Sandler working with director Jeremiah Zagar (this is his sophomore feature, with his debut being an underappreciated gem about children navigating a toxic household and adopting some of those same traits, We the Animals), this coming three years after working with the Safdie brothers on Uncut Gems which yielded the performance of his career. Now, Adam Sandler has always done serious one-offs with established filmmakers (his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson on Punch Drunk Love, which is probably his second-best performance), but considering one of his upcoming projects appears to be a drama about an astronaut, it’s safe to say these more challenging roles are becoming more frequent. Yes, Murder Mystery 2 is still on the horizon (God help us all), but it’s a joy watching Adam Sandler embracing his talents and putting in the work for more accomplished, rewarding acting turns fleshing out compelling characters.

Meanwhile, the screenplay from Will Fetters and Taylor Materne sours the work on screen. The latter’s writing experience amounts to storylines for the NBA 2K games (presumably Career Mode), which makes perfect sense considering the dialogue and situations come across as amateurish and with stretched credibility. Perhaps what’s most confounding about that statement is that the script is already cribbing from several sports movie tropes, unable to execute the classics with skill. Even the crowd-pleasing finale is difficult to get excited about, mainly because the third act begins running the story in circles until it drags itself across the finish line.


Adam Sandler is fictional former basketball player turned NBA talent scout Stanley Sugarman (ironically, a name that would lead one to believe Hustle might be one of Sandler’s lazier comedies). He has sacrificed much time away from his wife and daughter (played by Queen Latifah and Jordan Hull) over roughly ten years, looking to strengthen the Philadelphia 76ers. However, that is about to change as he receives a promotion to be the assistant coach, at least until new management (Ben Foster, more of a villain obstacle than an actual character) swoops in and sends Stanley once more on an international scouting tour with promises that if he can find the missing piece to championship success, he will maintain his promotion.

Hustle is also about family, with a sweet on-screen marriage between Adam Sander and Queen Latifah that takes and tones down their brands of humor, grounding them into a funny but human couple. Stanley isn’t happy that he continuously misses his daughter Alex’s birthdays, but there is a loving encouragement behind her filmmaking ambitions. However, he lives and breathes NBA (And because LeBron James is also a producer, there is much involvement and plenty of cameos including a highly amusing one from Dirk Nowitzki), hoping to be a part of the organization in some capacity beyond scouting. There’s also a bit of a redemption arc as Stanley has a scarred hand and a disgraced past that comes into play as the movie goes on.


In Spain, Stanley comes across unknown 7-foot-tall street baller sensation Bo Cruz (played by real-life NBA star Juancho Hernangomez), who ticks all the boxes he is looking for to elevate the Philadelphia 76ers into an elite team. Naturally, Bo is interested in coming to America for various events and training before the NBA draft, but he is a single father to a young daughter and can’t imagine leaving her behind. Nevertheless, his mother implores him to chase after his dream. It should be mentioned that Juancho Hernangomez is a tremendously likable underdog screen presence. There is a sensitivity underneath his towering frame that feels sincere. He and Sandler also develop a charming connection, whether it’s through flashy and energetically scored training montages or joking about the giant’s hotel room service food spending habits. Obviously, there is a juxtaposition between these two families to pull from and how each of them goes about being a father. The issue is that Hustle is also stuck in cliché sports movie mode rather than expanding on those family dynamics and how they intersect and differ.


By the time Ben Foster is taunting Stanley that he is going to miss another one of his daughters birthday’s while scouting again (there’s an entire subplot about him not wanting to draft Bo Cruz that doesn’t make much sense, but things are the way they are because this movie wants as many roadblocks as possible, no matter how illogical), Hustle feels like inauthentic derivativeness clashing with a tale of two families, that if given more time, could have been more heartwarming. Even so, it’s easy to be engaged with Hustle despite those flaws, considering the strong performances, but even that proves to be tedious once it starts to go on about 30 minutes too long. The performances are a slam-dunk; the writing misses the net.

Flickering Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]

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