LeBron could have used this guy in the Finals. And every one of his creaky teammates, for that matter. In Harlem, New York, Dax (Lil Rel Howery) is struggling to get by, making next to nothing as a Foot Locker employee. His girlfriend, Jess (Tiffany Haddish) takes advantage of his passive nature and consistently rings up his credit cards. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, as Dax sees a way out through the talented Casper (Aaron Gordon). As coach of a streetball team, Dax is determined to win the 100K prize that is awarded to the victor of the Rucker Classic.
The plan looks good until Dax’s old rival in Mookie (Nick Kroll) pickpockets Casper and his teammates for his own squad. Left with no one to place in the tourney, the local barbershop encourages Dax to find the legendary Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), an absolute baller despite being in advanced age. But to get “Unc” to step on the blacktop, Dax has to be willing to let Drew pick the squad—all of AARP age. There’s no way these grandpas could do the unthinkable and win the Rucker…or could they?
Remember those urban comedies and light dramas in the early/mid 2000’s that always looked the same, were a little stretched plot-wise, and relied a fair deal on soundtracks to fill runtime? Movies like You Got Served, Soul Plane, and Malibu’s Most Wanted fit this description. Fair bet you won’t see these movies at the top of one’s list, but they weren’t without steady laughs or good moments. Uncle Drew feels like a better one of those movies that would fit right into that period. Undemanding, very predictable, yet nifty as a comedy once its handle is found.
Directing the plays and the scenes (and the Nike/Pepsi product placement) from the sideline is Charles Stone III, a director who’s experienced success with his back-to-back-to-back trifecta in Drumline, Paid in Full, and Mr. 3000. Stone takes some of the mockumentary/pseudo-realistic approach found in Popstar and Draft Day to dump information quickly onto the audience with real life athletes and media personalities to give a small bit of “realism” to the film early on and sporadically in spots. Promise it’ll be the only instance the word realism will be used here. One doesn’t need to have viewed the trailer to know how the story plays out. It’ll send audiences home happy. For all the basketball heads out there, Uncle Drew is more like Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” run-and-gun offense, and less like Phil Jackson’s revered and complex “Triangle” offense.
It takes a while to finally see Uncle Drew come off of the bench and onto the court (roughly 20 minutes). Once he does, the comedy picks up exponentially. Sure, there are the third act sentimental shot attempts, some that barely graze the rim in being effective. But generally, Stone and company eschew emotion for ridiculousness, and man, do they commit to it.
Uncle Drew is base-level visual and physical comedy. There’s no way that it should work as consistently as it does. However, the sight of old and decrepit superstars lethally crossing up and humiliating youngbloods is a gag that is consistently fresh and funny enough to dribble through a thin plot. Even an extended road trip sequence that is nothing more than reuniting the crew and chopping it up on a road trip for 30 or so minutes doesn’t brick often. Howery, fresh off his turn as the scene-stealing TSA agent and audience muse, finds the comedy hotspots once Drew appears. Irving is clearly comfortable in every way as Unc; those unbelievable handles are worth part of the price of admission alone. He shares the screen with NBA stars and cult heroes of yesteryear in Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, and Nate Robinson. On one hand, it’s disappointing that current superstar NBAers weren’t cast to play these roles alongside the “Ankletaker”. On the other hand, the years spent by this foursome on TNT broadcasts and Inside the NBA has made for undeniable chemistry that a hodgepodge of today’s star players possibly could not replicate. Besides, with no Webber and O’Neal, we’d miss out on the March Madness championship no timeout and free throw jokes!
On fire? Uncle Drew never gets to that level. Nonetheless, there’s an impressive level of razzle-dazzleness to provide a good and amusing time. Boomshakalaka!
Photo credits go to abcnews.go.com, impawards.com, metacritic.com, and entertainment-focus.com.
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