Review: Uncle Drew

Director Charles Stone III’s Uncle Drew is mostly an excuse to watch NBA greats horse around in funny getups.

Uncle Drew
Photo: Summit Entertainment

Uncle Drew, the old-school streetballer played by NBA all-star Kyrie Irving, is a cheerfully scruffy creation, and so is the film that bears his name. Buried under old-man makeup and a puffy white hairpiece that looks perpetually on the verge of coming unglued from his face, Irving is rather less convincing as an old man than, say, Johnny Knoxville was in Bad Grandpa. But then, verisimilitude is hardly the point in a film where a quintet of decrepit fogeys re-form their pick-up basketball team from decades ago and easily outmatch a bunch of “youngbloods”—as Drew refers to his juniors—in a hotly contested neighborhood b-ball tournament dubbed the Rucker Classic.

Charles Stone III’s film, which combines the getting-the-band-back-together stretches of John Landis’s The Blues Brothers with a bog-standard sports-movie underdog story, wears its spastically silly implausibility on its sleeve, expending only the bare minimum of energy on the niceties of plot. The rat-a-tat dynamic between Drew and Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a pudgy young coach who recruits him to play in the Rucker Classic, is Uncle Drew’s backbone, and Howery proves adept at playing the chronically exasperated straight man to the trash-talking, faux-philosophical Drew, who refers to his vintage burnt-orange van—a preserved-in-amber relic of the funk era complete with wood paneling, shag carpeting, and a couch—as “the boom-boom room.”

Mostly, though, the film is an excuse to watch NBA greats horse around in funny getups. Reggie Miller plays a legally blind coot who can’t even sink a hoop on an arcade game, Shaquille O’Neal sports a ridiculous handlebar mustache and bright yellow karate gi as the instructor at a martial arts dojo, and Nate Robinson is unrecognizable beneath a massive beard and wig as a nursing home resident who doesn’t let the fact that he’s been confined to a wheelchair for years stop him from pulling off some primo dunks. But it’s Chris Webber who steals the show as an over-the-top preacher who, during a baptismal ceremony, tosses an infant around like a basketball.

Uncle Drew suffers from spotty pacing, getting needlessly bogged down in pointless sentimental subplots while oddly blazing through much of the Rucker Classic in a series of quick montages. But if it’s hardly a model of clockwork-like comedic construction, the film at least gives its performers plenty of space to let loose, which is a smart move considering the supporting cast is packed with comedy ringers like Nick Kroll, J.B. Smoove, and Tiffany Haddish, each of whom get the chance to blow some life into a wispy role. Kroll even manages to garner a laugh out of the film’s ubiquitous product placement, offering an out-of-the-blue shout-out to “Aleve, the number one pain killer in the game right now!” Given its main character’s origins in a series of viral videos sponsored by Pepsi Max, perhaps it’s appropriate that even the advertisements in Uncle Drew manage to be charming.

 Cast: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Erica Ash, Tiffany Haddish, Nick Kroll, Aaron Gordon, Mike Epps, J.B. Smoove  Director: Charles Stone III  Screenwriter: Jay Longino  Distributor: Summit Entertainment  Running Time: 103 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2018  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Keith Watson

Keith Watson is the proprietor of the Arkadin Cinema and Bar in St. Louis, Missouri.

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