There seems to be something about basketball themed TV commercials that strike a chord with Hollywood. First it was Michael Jordan vs. Looney Tunes in “Space Jam” and now comes “Uncle Drew,” a new inspirational comedy featuring starring Kyrie Irving as the character he created for Pepsi Max.
The story begins with Footlocker employee Dax (“Get Out’s” Lil Rel Howery), broke after draining his bank account to sponsor a team in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem. It is the epicenter of streetball, we’re told, “where the legends of the game you were born.”
The prize is $100,000 but more important than the money is showing up someone from his childhood, his nemesis Mookie (Nick Kroll), “the ghost of white boy past” who bullied Dax when they were players. “What’s that smell?” asks Mookie. “Is it a grudge?”
When Dax loses his best player and girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish) to Mookie he turns to an icon, streetball pioneer Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving). Now in his seventies the onetime local legend once beat someone at a game of one-on-one with only his left hand while eating a ham sandwich (with extra cheese and mayo on it) with the right. He is the “Zen master of basketball,” but hasn’t played since his team skipped the 1968 Rucker Classic for personal reasons.
Together they hit the road to recruit a sure-fire team of Uncle Drew’s septuagenarian pals (Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie all hidden under layers of make-up) to take one last run at the game on the 50th anniversary of the game they never got to play.
“Uncle Drew” is a sports movie based on a commercial but there’s more swishes than misses here. It’s a sweet natured film about respect, teamwork—“Gladys Knight ain’t nothing without the Pips,” says Uncle Drew.—resilience and second chances. It is an undeniable, if somewhat predictable, feel good movie that doesn’t aim any higher than the rim of a basketball hoop. Filled with old coot advice we learn, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and, “You don’t stop playing because you get old you get old because you stop playing,” it plays like a heavy-handed sports Successtory with loads of improv comedy.