Hustle: A Love Letter To The NBA

(L-R) Juancho Hernangómez as Bo Cruz and Adam Sandler as Stanley Sugerman in Hustle. Photo credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix © 2022.

Hustle isn’t only a love letter to the NBA and Philadelphia but one of Adam Sandler’s top tier performances since going into motion pictures.

It turns out that the secret to making a good movie starring Adam Sandler is to have an auteur director at the helm. The other thing is to take him as far away from his standard comedy comfort zone. We saw this most recently with The Meyerwitz Stories, Uncut Gems, and now Hustle. I’m sure there are other films that escape my mind right now. But this is a film that’s less about Sandler in as much as it’s about the NBA and what it takes to play in the league. Hustle really is the perfect film for Adam Sandler because it brings out his strengths as an actor.

Stanley Sugarman (Adam Sandler) is a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers but you sense that he wants to be something more. Here’s a guy who has missed so many of his daughter’s birthdays simply because of being on the road. If he would have his way, he would be a coach but the decision is up to the ownership and management levels. So where is Stanley when we first meet him? He is constantly traveling on the road in hopes of finding the next big star for the 76ers. A trip to Spain sees Sugarman watching Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez) in action. It’s the type of discovery that would make any scout jealous. Even though Bo is an astonishing basketball player, his past could catch up with him at anytime. He also needs to work on his control, too.

Against Vince Merrick’s (Ben Foster) wishes, Stanley decides to bring Bo to America in order to land a spot in the NBA. This is easier said than done and it almost ruins his career once people learn of Bo’s past. Suddenly, the movie becomes more than just a NBA love letter but an underdog story. I mean, this is the city of Philadelphia! The one thing missing from the film is the Rocky theme playing over the training montage! This is a real missed opportunity. Aside from that, the city is very much a character in this film. With Teresa (Queen Latifah) by Stanley’s side, there’s hope that Bo can still make the NBA.

It’s easier directing athletes to act than the other way around. One way of looking at it, the film doesn’t necessarily need to depend on stunt doubles to pull off the athletic feats especially when someone is on the breakaway for a slam dunk. This kind of skill isn’t something you can just pull off without having the skill. That’s what’s so great about watching Juancho Hernangómez in the role. That he’s able to hold his own against a star like Sandler is proof enough that his talent transcends beyond the court. If this whole basketball thing ever comes to an end for him, he’s got some solid potential to make it as an actor.

Because this is a love letter to the NBA, there are no shortage of cameos. When you’re making a love letter to the NBA and Philly, you have to include both Dr. J and Allen Iverson! Everywhere you look, it’s a current player, someone in ownership or management, or a Hall of Famer. But here’s the thing: this film is set within the workings of the NBA so they never take you out of the story. I would need to double check the credits and count them all but it’s a substantial number. A memorial following Rex Merrick’s (Robert Duvall) passing leads to no shortage of them. I love it! Kenny Smith is among the few that do not play himself because he stars as a sports agent, Leon Rich.

An interesting fact that Adam Sandler mentioned on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Game Night on Thursday evening is that the production took place in two parts. The first part of the production featured scenes including Sandler, Queen Latifah, and the offices. It wasn’t until after the NBA bubble concluded that they were able to shoot footage featuring the NBA players. Let me tell you that the wait is certainly worth it because the end result is one hell of a film!

Whether you’re a basketball fan or an Adam Sandler fan, there’s plenty to enjoy about Hustle.

DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Zagar
SCREENWRITERS: Taylor Materne and Will Fetters
CAST: Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, Juancho Hernangómez, Ben Foster, Kenny Smith, Anthony Edwards, Jordan Hull, Maria Botto, Ainhoa Pillet, Raul Castillo, Jaleel White, Heidi Gardner, and Robert Duvall

Netflix will release Hustle in theaters on June 3, 2022. The film will start streaming on June 8, 2022. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.