At first glance, Netflix’s Hustle may seem like one’s stereotypical inspirational sports drama. Starring Adam Sandler in one of his best dramatic roles yet, Hustle certainly fits that description, yet the film is actually a brilliant love letter to the sport of basketball. I am admittedly no fan of sports myself, nor do I have even the slightest knowledge about basketball. Hustle does not require a textbook of snappy sports lingo to infiltrate its soaring underdog story. Sandler acts opposite beefy Spanish professional basketball player Juancho Hernangomez, and the duo form a platonic friendship for the ages.
Stanley (Adam Sandler) has been a basketball scout for years, and with almost three decades in the business, is finally getting the opportunity to rise in the ranks. He has missed countless birthdays and important family moments with his supportive wife (Queen Latifah, Bringing Down the House, Chicago) and movie geek daughter (Jordan Hull, The L Word: Generation Q), but that all seems poised to change. After insurmountable hard work, the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, Rex (Robert Duvall, The Godfather, Secondhand Lions), finally appoints Stanley as the assistant coach of the team! However, before Stanley is even able to get his foot in the door, Rex unexpectedly passes away, leaving his incorrigible, impulsive son, Vin (Ben Foster), in charge.
Stanley and Vin typically do not see eye to eye. This tradition continues mere months later, when Stanley’s plans to finally be settled at home to make his daughter’s birthday for the first time in ages are thrown into jeopardy. Vin smugly assigns Stanley to go back to scouting before returning to his coaching role, which feels like a slap in the face, but what choice does he really have? Spectacularly, it doesn’t take long for Stanley to catch his eye on budding talent. During a trip to Spain, Stanley attends a street game in which a towering player absolutely dominates. He follows construction worker Bo (Hernangomez) back home, and manages to convince the player to come back to the states with him as a possible recruit! Is Stanley being hasty, or could this potential player truly be destined for superstardom?
Naysayers of Sandler may see Happy Madison’s logo as a red flag, but I have personally never taken issue with the films he does for the company. Typically, all I ask for from his movies are having a good time. That’s what makes it all the more shocking that Hustle hits the dramedy sweet spot so few are able to pull off convincingly. The film calls on Sandler for a challenging role of a lifetime, and he produces with the help of legend LeBron James; scripting comes from A Star is Born scribe Will Fetters and co-writer Taylor Materne. Hustle is sure to emphasize that commitment, determination, and passion are absolutely essential if one wishes to see success from their voracious efforts.
What works best here is every single interaction between Stanley and Bo, as well as the basketball games themselves, which are filmed with nail-biting intensity. Sandler and Hernangomez are a dynamic duo, whether bonding over the love they share for their daughters, playfully quarreling over porn habits, developing silly nicknames for each other, or channeling their passion for success to motivate their progression. Stanley remains committed to Bo’s journey from start to finish no matter what any of the naysayers think. I was rooting for them every step of the way. A bittersweet conclusion checks most of the boxes one would anticipate. Cue a Rocky-style training montage and inspirational music! Regardless, an inherent level of predictability does not dull a single ounce of Hustle’s potency.
Rounding out the cast with real-life basketball players and coaches slathers on a thick layer of authenticity. Hustle is an impressive piece of filmmaking that will be a favorite to many, especially the dad crowd. Releasing on Netflix also seems to be a solid gamble considering the breadth of viewers they will be able to reach. I absolutely loved Hustle—it could be controversial to say, but this will easily go down as one of my all-time favorite Adam Sandler performances!
Hustle invites you to an all-star scrimmage when it debuts in select theaters and streaming to Netflix on Friday, June 8th.