Saturday, July 7, 2018

Review of UNCLE DREW: Gaining from the Game

July 7, 2018

Last week, a small comedy film about basketball opened in local cinemas. I probably would have given it a miss, but my son, who is a bigger NBA fan than I am, really wanted to watch it. We were not able to catch it right away, so it was a good thing that it survived the box office competition to run for a second week. This should probably not be a surprise in this basketball-crazy country of ours.

Coach Dax invested his whole life savings on a team to join the Ruckers 50, an annual classic street basketball event held in Harlem that now carried a  hefty $100K first prize. At the last moment, his long-time nemesis Mookie weaseled Dax's whole team, along his loud shopping-crazy girlfriend Jess, out from under him. 

A depressed Dax met Uncle Drew, a legendary ball player back in the 1960s, and convinced him to play for him. Uncle Drew agreed, but only if he could gather his old teammates back together.  Preacher was now a church minister. Lights was legally blind. Boots was confined to a wheelchair for several years. Big Fella was now a karate teacher for little kids. Desperate, Dax had no choice but to put his trust into these old guys. 

The character Uncle Drew originated as a Pepsi commercial back in 2012, when Kyrie Irving was just 19 years old. Now only 26, Irving is still the youngest among the NBA players in the cast. Nate Robinson (Boots) is 33, Chris Webber (Preacher) is 44, Shaquille O'Neal (Big Fella) is 45, and Reggie Miller (Lights) is 51. WNBA star Lisa Leslie (Betty Lou) is also 44. Uncle Drew kept calling Dax "youngblood" but actor Lil' Rey Bowery is actually already 38.

The comedy is typical African-American style humor, generally wholesome probably since this film is aimed for the younger generation. As expected, many jokes centered around the geriatric habits and infirmities, some of which were rehashed. The old age make-up was fine, but those ugly white wigs were pretty funny. There were references only true-blue US basketball fans would get, like why Webber was told "no more timeouts".

Irving's performance was laidback and cool as Uncle Drew. Webber and Leslie (who played husband and wife here) were over-the-top amusing, while Nick Kroll (as Mookie) and Tiffany Haddish (as Jess) were over-the top annoying. Shaq's "acting" was as awkward as ever, which was funny in itself, even if he was just standing still. Bowery's sneaky mention of the film "Get Out" (in which he was also part of the cast) got an LOL out of me.

This film by Charles Stone III followed the template of most underdog sports movies in the past, so you can see how it will end a mile away. However, this film was more about Uncle Drew's philosophy in life and basketball -- trusting your abilities, respecting your teammates and playing for the love the game (not the money). These lessons were delivered loud and clear, while also giving the audience a good fun time. 6/10. 

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