Adam Sandler hits it from downtown in this feel-good sports flick that, although predictable at every turn, features a compelling story and enough basketball references to make the Philadelphia faithful giddy with excitement.
An NBA scout (Sandler) discovers a highly-talented young man (Juancho Hernangómez) hustling players on the street for cash, a potential NBA star he believes can make it big. Together they tackle obstacles of the past and present to beat the odds. Hustle doesn’t break much new ground in terms of structure or storytelling, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t a formidable entry into the pantheon of underdog sports films, especially with it being set in Philadelphia. Director (and Philly native) Jeremiah Zagar utilizes a highly likable performance by Sandler to hook viewers into the emotional journey right away, especially once Ben Fosters’ snotty, privileged character is introduced. It’s NBA big man Hernangómez, however, that stole the show for me with a passionate turn as a father carrying the weight of his family on his back. Every scene of his with Sandler is full of heart with chuckles sprinkled in. They’re a pairing that lifts one another up, an unexpectedly captivating duo.
Being from the Philadelphia area, seeing city locations and personalities utilized in Hustle was just a blast from start to finish, whether it’s current Philadelphia 76ers players like Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey, sports radio legend Anthony Gargano, or former Villanova basketball mainstay coach Jay Wright. Zagar has crafted a film that basketball fans will love (other cameos are present throughout and Anthony Edwards has a somewhat prominent role) while also sending a love letter to Philadelphia in particular.
Hustle can feel a bit rushed at times, but the energy it emits is enough to overcome these minor flaws to establish it as one of Netflix’s best releases in recent memory.
Hustle is now streaming on Netflix and playing in limited theaters.
Photo from Netflix