'Hustle' Source: Netflix

Review: Careful Thoughtful 'Hustle' a Pure Delight

Derek Deskins READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Oh, the emotional roller coaster that is the life of an Adam Sandler fan. For older Millennials and younger Gen-Xers, he is a comedian that came to define a kind of early bro comedy. But as his fans have aged, Sandler's Happy Madison Productions has almost aggressively remained the same.

That type of arrested development has led some, including this longtime fan, to turn away from these movies. But just as Sandler occasionally chooses to show us that he can act ("Uncut Gems"), you can never quite count the Sandman out. In his latest "Hustle," Adam Sandler shows that he still knows how to make something special.

Stanley Sugerman used to be a star on the basketball court, but the years haven't been kind to him. With aspirations of coaching, he is hanging onto the NBA with everything that he has left. A seasoned and respected scout, Stan travels the world looking for the next great player, only to then have his opinions dismissed by the front office. While in Spain, Stan finds a player that excites him more than any other in recent memory. Seeing this young player as his last big shot, Stan goes all in to make both of their dreams come true.

The sports movie is a well-defined genre. It holds onto its tropes with a death grip only matched by the romantic comedy. But that is largely what makes sport movies so enticing to audiences. Crowds of sports fans attend sporting events chasing that high; theater audiences want the same thing. We yearn for the familiar beats, big speeches, and exhilarating final games. And Adam Sandler is fairly well-versed in the genre, dating all the way back to half of his production company's namesake: "Happy Gilmore." But even those trips through the sports genre have been largely defined by Sandler's goofy-voiced man-child shtick, managing to keep emotions and feelings at a distance.

"Hustle" is different.

"Hustle" is Sandler with heart, with care, and with purpose. It has all of the elements that make us love him in movies like "Spanglish" or "The Wedding Singer." It's the Sandler that welcomes you in, shows you how messy things are, and keeps you around to see if he grows. It is the space where Sandler's everyman affability takes the material to another level. In "Hustle," you get a Sandler that feels invested and doesn't shirk his own emotionality. It's fun to watch Sandler yell in anger and frustration, but it is so much more satisfying to watch him revel in pathos and tug at our heart strings.

As a sports movie, "Hustle" does exactly what is asked of it. Although it occasionally relies too heavily on montages (a criticism that is like chastising a child that eats too much sugar in a candy store), it draws you into a warm, familiar embrace, with characters that are drawn well enough to feel like something new and worth your time. While the film is positively overflowing with familiar faces and NBA stars, it deploys its cast with wonderful precision. The athletes that must act acclimate themselves to the material well (mostly because they are asked to do little more than be athletes). Juancho Hernangomez is surprisingly fantastic as Bo Cruz. He is given little on the page (and the lack of lines may play to his advantage), but he imbues his performance with nuance and subtlety, making you cheer for him every step of the way.

Making a sports movie that stands out amongst its many brethren is no simple feat, but "Hustle" manages the task well. From the jump, it appears that Sandler's Happy Madison Productions wanted to do something different with this picture; something better. "Hustle" has the vibe of something built carefully and thoughtfully, and the results are a delight. It is the type of movie that reels you in with punchy sports action, but keeps you around for the way it makes you feel. "Hustle" belongs among "Creed" and "Warrior" as an example of what a great modern sports movie can be.

"Hustle" is playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.

by Derek Deskins

This story is part of our special report: "Streaming Reviews". Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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