Netflix movie review: Hustle – Adam Sandler, NBA player Juancho Hernangomez underdogs in uplifting basketball drama

Juancho Hernangomez (left) and Adam Sandler in a still from Hustle, directed by Jeremiah Zagar.
PHOTO: Cassy Athena/Netflix

4/5 stars

Adam Sandler is in his element as a down-on-his-luck basketball scout in Netflix's new sports drama Hustle , but it is Utah Jazz power forward Juancho Hernangomez who proves the star attraction in a film stacked with NBA all-stars both past and present.

Produced by Sandler and LeBron James, and directed by Jeremiah Zagar (We the Animals ), Hustle follows the underdog movie playbook with unabashed reverence, cruising to a comfortable though undeniably feel-good victory.

Stanley Sugerman (Sandler) lives his life out of a suitcase, flying from city to city in search of the next sporting sensation to sign for the Philadelphia 76ers. When the team's benevolent owner (Robert Duvall in a brief but authoritative cameo) dies, leaving his loathsome son (Ben Foster) in control, Stanley's days with the Sixers are numbered.

In a moment of desperation, he stakes his reputation on Bo Cruz (Hernangomez), a complete unknown who plays for extra cash at public courts in downtown Madrid, Spain. With a young daughter and single mother to support, Bo follows Stanley to the United States, only to discover that his promises of NBA stardom were exaggerated, and both are soon left to fend for themselves.

Sandler dispenses with his goofball man-child shtick, steering Stanley closer to his desperate New York jeweller character from Uncut Gems, albeit without the crippling gambling debts and insufferable neuroses.

Stanley is an overweight should've-been, a one-time college hopeful who missed his window to go pro but somehow managed to retain the respect of his peers. His long-suffering wife (Queen Latifah) and teenage daughter (Jordan Hull) do their best to remain supportive, but for long stretches, it is only Stanley's blind faith in Bo's natural abilities that keep them afloat.

Bo is a six-foot-nine (206cm) giant with good intentions and incredible promise, but he also has a short temper and dark secrets lingering in his past. Hernangomez, the 26-year-old Spanish international who joined the NBA in 2016, reveals himself to be a natural in front of the camera, utterly convincing as both a wide-eyed fish out of the water and a troubled young man for whom everything is moving too fast.

Anthony "Ant-Man" Edwards, Boban Marjanovic, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley are just a few of the basketball greats who appear on screen, lending the film a welcome boost of credibility.

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There may be precious few surprises served up along the way, but Hustle is a sincere and successful celebration of the game that never takes its eye off the prize.

Hustle is streaming on Netflix.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.