Hot Take: If I was a teenager again, I would have watched Uncle Drew 100 times once it ended up on cable… I still might watch it a few times once it hits the streaming services… or maybe go see it again.
I didn’t expect to care for Uncle Drew. Even with my sports movie bias that finds me liking sports movies more than I should, the buzz around Uncle Drew had me pessimistic on the chances of being entertained by the film featuring a bunch of old basketball players and Kyrie Irving in makeup to make them look even more senior than they are playing in the most famed street ball championship in the world. There were so many signs this film wouldn’t work. Unless your Will Smith, releasing this close to the 4th of July isn’t always a great idea. The film has more sponsors than a Nascar driver which isn’t surprising since the character Uncle Drew originated in advertisements for Pepsi Max. All that being said, Uncle Drew was a lot of fun. I had more fun watching Uncle Drew than I should have and the audience I saw it with seemed to have a similar experience.
Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish, Nick Kroll, J.B. Smoove, Mike Epps, Erica Ash and Tiffany Haddish all provide laughs as the seasoned performers and hoopsters Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie all make an effective crossover into the world of acting (Note: It’s not Shaq’s first rodeo when it comes to the big screen.). The script, while silly, isn’t terrible. It lands a few knockout blows with some tongue-in-cheek references including a Lil Rel poke at Get Out and Chris Webber poking fun at his infamous timeout in the 1993 NCAA Championship. Shaq even delivers a Kobe dig. The opening mimics ESPN’s famed 30 for 30 format which effectively gives the film an excuse to role out a few cameos. Director Charles Stone III (most famous for his “Whassup?” commercials and whose filmography features Drumline and Mr. 3000) shows solid craftsmanship in weaving this film together. The basketball action is tight and there a number of subtle nods to other films if you squint. The most obvious is an homage to Coming to America complete with barbershop scenes featuring a octogenarian version of J.B. Smoove and Mike Epps. Am I the only one who felt a little Blues Brothers vibe when Uncle Drew (Irving) and Dax (Howery) head out on the road to gather Drew’s squad?
Did I fail to give a synopsis of the plot? Well, let’s make it quick. Dax is an orphan who loves hoops but gets blocked as a kid by rival Mookie (Kroll) and never plays again. He turns to coaching but can’t seem to outdo his rival who forms teams that win the Rucker Classic every year. Dax finds Casper (Aaron Gordon) who looks to be his ticket to a championship (and $100,000) but when Mookie steals Casper (and Dax’s girlfriend played by Haddish) away, Dax desperately goes on a search for a team to win the Rucker. This leads him to Uncle Drew who is willing to help Dax IF Drew has the option to pick his own team which leads to fellow senior citizens Preacher (Webber), Lights (Miller), Boots (Robinson) and Big Fella (O’Neal) to round out the squad.
There are a number of subplots thrown in throughout the film with Preacher’s wife Betty Lou (Leslie) hunting down the crew and trying to stop her husband from playing. Dax gets a love interest in Boots’s granddaughter Maya (Ash). There’s a dance-off. (Yup! It happened.) There’s a lot going on. Surprisingly, most of it, if not all of it, works! As already stated, Uncle Drew is a lot of fun.
While Uncle Drew won’t win any awards (Okay, maybe it’ll grab an MTV Movie Award nomination), considering it’s based on a character derived from a TV commercial, Uncle Drew is somewhat of an achievement that it provides such entertainment. The movie never drags at 103 minutes and the film’s obvious love for the game of basketball provides the film with the charismatic charm it needs to succeed. The movie also grabbed the right ambassadors of the game of hoops to star in the film with especially strong performances from Irving and Shaq and competent acting turns from Miller, Webber, Robinson and Leslie. The comedy vets do their thing and Howery is proving his worth more and more with his role in Uncle Drew continuing an impressive run of roles. If you’re a hoops fan and love to laugh, do yourself a favor and see Uncle Drew.
It’s a slam dunk to make you laugh.
That slam dunk reference is lost on you.