REVIEW: ‘Hustle’ has enough highlights to be worth seeing

As a Timberwolves fan, I was happy to see Minnesota star basketball player Anthony Edwards featured in this film.

Unfortunately, he plays an antagonistic character in “Hustle,” so the audience isn’t supposed to like him. Quite the dilemma.

The main focus of “Hustle,” though, is Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler), a scout for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers team. At the film’s start, Sugerman appears to have a chance at moving up from a scout to an assistant coach, but the promotion is dashed when a change of ownership takes place.

Sugerman is at first upset about having to go abroad to scout players again, but his mentality changes when he comes across a street-ball player named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) in Spain. Sugerman knows it’s a long shot because the 76ers don’t appear entirely interested in Cruz because of his lack of association play, but Sandler’s character still brings him to the United States, convinced that the player can get drafted by a pro team.

“Hustle” has the framework of a typical sports movie but the picture has a bit of an attitude that elevates it enough to be rather enjoyable. There are montages, a reveal that causes a rift at the end of the second act, a rival player and a skeptical team owner.

It’s all familiar territory, but the execution is there. Sandler’s character having to balance being a family man and an aggressive pro sports scout is compelling and somewhat reminiscent of the protagonist’s journey in “Jerry Maguire.”

Bo’s story is compelling as well. He’s a character who loves to play the game and has made a hustle out of it in street ball to help support his family. That same inspiration drives him forward as Sandler’s character helps refine his skills.

Courtesy Netflix.

The film is also rated R, giving it more of an edge. Not that such a film couldn’t work with a lower rating, but it allows the script to be more loose and real. It comes across as more convincing than, say, some of the more family friendly sports movies that have come out.

The sports scenes also provide some good entertainment value. The editing for the training montages is superb and the basketball play is fun to watch. That’s especially true for the street ball scenes. Style points may not always be needed but they certainly bring some excitement.

Adam Sandler is a performer that can turn on some good acting when he really needs to. It was shown a few years ago in “Uncut Gems” and that is true again here. This performance isn’t on the level of that one, but it’s still pretty good.

On top of getting the salesman part of the character right, Sandler is also good as a trainer. In sports movies, the coach is an important part, and Sandler works as one.

As for the other lead, Hernangomez is fine overall. He’s an NBA player, currently with the Utah Jazz, so acting isn’t his regular gig. However, he makes the most of his time on screen.

“Hustle” isn’t a sensational sports picture, but it is certainly above average. It’s a sports flick with some genuine personality and the basketball scenes are definitely entertaining. 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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