Uncle Drew features some great basketball players having fun while drawing on the old George Bernard Shaw quote, “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.”
Once the ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 logo graces the screen, we know we’re in for some fun. The spoof documentary sets the tone of the film with a number of Basketball Hall of Fame cameos describing their experiences with Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving). A documentary in its own right would make for a fun bonus feature! It’s cameos galore including a nice dig at Jerry West being the NBA logo.
After the brief introduction to the history behind Uncle Drew and the Harlem Buckets, all Dax Winslow (Lil Rel Howery) wants to do is have a team play in the Rucker Classic. The longtime street ball tournament in Harlem comes with a nice prize. Dax has his team with star player Casper (Aaron Gordon) so he knows the team can go far. Unfortunately, he soon loses his team and later his girlfriend, Jess (Tiffany Haddish), to none other than Mookie Bass (Nick Kroll). Dax and Mookie go way back–a dream-like sequence shows the backstory–to when Dax was humiliated in a basketball game. He never recovered from the blocked shot and hasn’t played a second since the dreaded event.
In a strange twist of events, Dax encounters Uncle Drew and soon recruits him for the tournament. There’s just one set of conditions: it’s going to be Uncle Drew’s team. Despite all the old-age (and very believable) makeup, these guys can still play some hoops. First, it’s off to pick up Preacher (Chris Webber) in DC. The former power forward is married to Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie). It’s not a stretch to compare this scene to The Blues Brothers recruiting Matt “Guitar” Murphy and “Blue” Lou Marini so many years ago. Next up is Lights (Reggie Miller) and Boots (Nate Robinson). They up the comedy for these two but manage to pick up Boots’ granddaughter, Maya (Erica Ash), for the ride. Finally, it’s the Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal) himself and the two have never recovered from the last time they saw each other many years earlier.
The film does fall into some of the predictable sports movie cliches over the years. You kind of already know which team will win the tournament. It doesn’t even feel like a spoiler because even sports comedies–even this one written by former college basketball player Jay Longino–play right into the cliches. The fun comes in just watching the basketball action on screen. It’s because of the cliches that the nerve-wrecking suspense that we have watching March Madness doesn’t happen during the film. This doesn’t make the film any less fun because it’s clear that these guys like playing together!
Give credit to the makeup team because they go above and beyond in making young and middle-aged basketball players look like they’re in their 70s and 80s. Hell, they even gave Shaq hair and who can remember the last time that we saw hair on his head!
A bit of backstory for those unfamiliar with Irving’s alter-ego: the film dates back to 2012 when Pepsi released the first of five installments of a digital series that would later go viral with some 95 million views. I’ve not seen the digital series but that didn’t matter as I was laughing so much at the antics on screen. If you want to catch up on the series, that’s fine but it really doesn’t matter in the long-term.
There’s some fun Easter Eggs in the film and they only play for laughs. During one of the earlier games when Uncle Drew is hogging the ball, Big Fella takes a jab at Shaq’s real-life former teammate in yelling, “Pass the ball, Kobe!” Later on, in the final seconds of a game, Uncle Drew reminds Preacher that there are no time outs remaining. During the end credits, there are a lot of outtakes and some scenes that feel like they were deleted from the film. One of those includes Kentucky coach John Calipari trying to recruit Uncle Drew but he tells him that he’s more of a Duke Blue Devils guy. This references the university where Irving was a one-and-done player.
Uncle Drew is not a serious film by any means but the lighthearted film brings a lot of fun when America truly needs it.
DIRECTOR: Charles Stone III
SCREENWRITERS: Jay Longino
CAST: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Erica Ash, with Tiffany Haddish, and Nick Kroll
CAMEOS: Sal Masekela, John Calipari, Jon Hammond, Scoop Jackson, Pee Wee Kirkland, Earl Monroe, Chris Mullin, Bill Walton, George Gervin, Steve Nash, David Robinson, Jerry West, Dikembe Mutombo, NeNe Leakes, and Scott Van Pelt
Summit Entertainment will open Uncle Drew in theaters on June 29, 2018.