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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Uncle Drew

I don't know how much about Uncle Drew I will remember two weeks from now, but I will remember it being a genuinely pleasant experience while I was watching it.  When you consider that this is a feature length movie inspired by a series of Pepsi commercials, and that the soda company is listed as the production company behind the film (Watch out for those product placements!), that's probably the highest praise you can give it. 

This is a surprisingly charming and goofy movie that has a lot of energy and even some genuine laughs.  Yes, it's predictable as all get-out, and the screenplay reads like every underdog sports movie cliche mixed together.  But, it has a big heart, a talented cast who know how to sell this admittedly tired material, and it just has a positive energy to it that is infectious.  The movie stars Lil Rel Howery (who played the scene-stealing TSA agent in last year's Get Out) as Dax, a down on his luck basketball coach who works at Foot Locker to pay the bills, and has a girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish, a big comic stand out, as always) who walks all over him emotionally, and is spending him into the poorhouse.  Dax hopes to lead his team to victory at the annual Rucker Classic - a legendary outdoor-court tournament in Harlem featuring some of the best freelance players in the country, with the aim that it will change his luck in life.

All of Dax's hopes are riding on his star player, Casper (Aaron Gordon of the Atlanta Magic), carrying his team to a big win.  But then, his arch nemesis and rival coach Mookie (Nick Kroll, who is quickly becoming Hollywood's go-to actor for comic jerks) swoops in, and steals his entire team, as well as his girlfriend.  He now has no team, no apartment, and seemingly no hope, until a local barber tells him about the legendary Uncle Drew (NBA star Kyrie Irving, unrecognizable under some very good old man make up), a player from 50 years ago who supposedly was one of the all time greats, but has since gone missing, and no one has seem him in decades.  As luck would have it, Dax happens to bump into Uncle Drew at a street game, and after seeing how Drew handles himself in a game against some trash-talking young punk players, Dax knows that he needs Drew to be at the head of the new team that he is forming.

Uncle Drew has just one condition - He will only play with his old team.  The two hit the road in Drew's vintage old van, complete with eight track player, and the heater constantly blasting even though it's summer. (Old people are always cold, you know.) They drive cross country to gather up Drew's old teammates before the big game, and the team eventually includes Preacher (Chris Webber), the legally blind Lights (Reggie Miller), the wheelchair-bound Boots (Nate Robinson), and the appropriately-named Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal), who is holding a grudge against Uncle Drew after an event surrounding a woman that both men loved back in the day.  They are also joined up by Preacher's wife Betty Lou (three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie), who joins the team after spending a majority of the movie chasing after them in her own vehicle in a series of slapstick chase sequences.  Boots' sweet and attractive granddaughter Maya (Erica Ash) also comes along for the ride, and plays the role of Dax's new romantic interest.

Look, I'm not saying that Uncle Drew isn't derivative.  You can pretty much predict every moment that's going to happen before it does.  If the old guys walk into a night club, of course there's going to be a dance contest against some young folks who were dissing them.  And if you honestly can't predict the outcome of the big climactic game, you probably haven't watched any form of media in the past 70 years.  But there's a sweetness to this movie that won me over, and even some genuinely big laughs.  It's not surprising that the stars like Howery, Haddish and Kroll are good, but what is surprising is how good the professional basketball stars are playing their characters.  They're not just walking around under a lot of make up to make them look older, they're genuinely creating characters.  Maybe not deep or rich characters, but ones who are likable and that you find yourself caring about before it's over.

If I must be honest, I probably had more fun watching this than the overhyped and idiotic Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  At least this movie has a genuine charm and energy to it that the movie about dinosaurs lacked.  I'm not saying this is a great movie or anything.  But it is a sweet and winning one.

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