HUSTLE (2022)

June 7, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. As a sports fan and movie fan, I approach every sports movie with trepidation and low expectations. Let’s face it, most actors aren’t great (or even good) athletes, and most athletes aren’t great (or even good) actors. We would have no interest in a western where the cowboys can’t ride horses, just as we have no interest in watching John Goodman portray a baseball legend in THE BABE (1992). I tell you this to convey my state of mind while preparing to watch this basketball movie from director Jeremiah Zagar and co-writers Will Fetters (A STAR IS BORN, 2018) and Taylor Materne. It gives me pleasure to say that even though the premise is kind of similar to Kevin Bacon’s 1992 film, THE AIR UP THERE, this one should satisfy most sports and basketball fans.

Adam Sandler stars as Stanley Sugermen, a long-time scout for the Philadelphia 76’ers. An opening montage gives us a taste of why he’s worn out and beaten down after so many years on the road. Rushing to catch flights, too many fast-food meals, crashing in one hotel after another, and chasing down tips on the next great player … it all adds up to frustration and too much time away from his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and teenage daughter (Jordan Hull). Feeling unappreciated and questioning his professional future, Stanley is ecstatic when the long-time Sixers owner played by (Oscar winner) Robert Duvall promotes Stanley to assistant coach. Unfortunately, the dream-come-true turns into a nightmare when the beloved owner dies, leaving his cocky son Vince (Ben Foster) in charge of the team. Vince has little respect for Stanley and promptly sends him back on the road.

It’s in Mallorca, Spain where Stanley stumbles on a nighttime game at a local outdoor court. Immediately catching his eye is an intense, lanky player in work boots. NBA player Juancho Hernangomez stars as Bo Cruz, a true previously undiscovered diamond in the rough. The dream of all scouts is to be the first to find a transcendent player, and once they hear the NBA minimum salary, Bo’s mother and young daughter are on board with Stanley taking Bo to the United States. Of course, things don’t go according to plan. Vince rejects Bo, and a history of anger issues comes back to haunt Bo. Stanley ignores the naysayers, trusts his instincts, and takes on the project of preparing Bo for the scouting combine. The training montage is very well done, as Sandler and Juancho are both believable and draw us in for support.

Cinematographer Zak Mulligan and director Zagar deserve credit for filming the basketball sequences in a style that highlights the athletic talent without resorting to cheap editing tricks. Of course it helps that the basketball sequences are loaded with actual NBA players and playground legends. These guys look like they can play because they CAN. I’ll leave the closing credit montage to highlight most of those involved, but a couple of standouts include Boban Marjonovich and Anthony Edwards, the latter playing Bo’s head-game nemesis, Kermit Wilts. Also making appearances are Kenny Smith as a player agent, and the great Julius “Dr J” Erving, who has a couple of scenes.

When most people think of Adam Sandler, his long list of sophomoric and absurd man-child movies come to mind. Certainly, he can’t be blamed for giving the masses what they want. It’s made him a very rich man. However, his talent in more dramatic roles should not be ignored. The recent UNCUT GEMS and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES are examples, and going back further, his turn in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE remains one of his best. As Stanley Sugermen, Sandler injects humor into his love of basketball, tossing in a couple of ‘soccer’ and ‘geezer’ jokes. Overall, he successfully captures the essence of an everyman seeking redemption for his self and his family.

Streaming on Netflix beginning June 8, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE DILEMMA

January 15, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. On average, I see two new releases per week. Selections are based on subject matter, cast, director, and most often, the trailer. My two most recent viewings were BLUE VALENTINE and SOMEWHERE, both somber to say the least. So a light-hearted buddy flick with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, and directed by Ron Howard, seemed like just the right change of pace.

Unfortunately, the actual film has little resemblance to the film advertised in the trailer. Sure the comedy scenes from the trailer are present: Vince gives an acidic toast, Kevin James does his fat-man dance, and Channing Tatum plays an off-center tattooed boy toy with a loaded gun and dead fish. Where the fraud comes in is with the rest of the film. This is a pretty dark, weighty relationship movie that poses quite the moral dilemma (hence the title) for Vince. Should he tell his best friend and business partner that his wife is cheating on him?

Rather than a few rounds of funny scenes with Vaughn trying to get it right, we get “deep” emotional wrangling of a poor guy who just doesn’t know the best solution. Along the way he hurts many people he likes, and a few he doesn’t. Please don’t take this wrong, I am fully onboard with dramas being mixed with comedy. In fact, Ron Howard has provided us with one of the best examples of this … PARENTHOOD. However, this is nowhere near that level, and in fact, misses the mark in both comedy and drama.

I spent much of the movie trying to decide who was most frightening, Winona Ryder or Karen Carpenter. What?? Oh wait, I meant Winona Ryder or Jennifer Connelly. Too soon? Come on, she died in 1983. The point is Ms. Ryder carries forth with her BLACK SWAN look and Ms. Connelly evidently hasn’t had solid food for at least a dozen years. Queen Latifah does her best to bring some energy to the film, but her character only has about 3-4 scenes. It’s always nice to see how Ron Howard works in his brother Clint and his father Rance … thereby keeping their actor’s guild cards current.

 There really was a good idea here, but the comedy and drama just weren’t meshed well. And Kevin James as a genius engineer? Seems a stretch from Mall Cop! Ron Howard has some classic movies to his name. Some funny ones like NIGHT SHIFT, and some dramatic ones like A BEAUTIFUL MIND and APOLLO 13. Unfortunately, this one falls flat and really provides little entertainment.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: umm … sorry, I’ve got nothing … just watch the trailer and save your money.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a slapstick comedy with Vince Vaughn, Kevin James and Queen Latifah.


VALENTINE’S DAY (2010)

February 13, 2010

 (2-12-10) Greetings again from the darkness. Really no need to offer commentary on the story. If you have seen the preview (how could you have missed it?), you know it’s a major chick flick with a long list of Hollywood celebrities who come together and display the trials and tribulations that we have come to celebrate as Valentine’s Day – surely a concoction born of greeting card companies, florists and confectioneries.

For most of the movie, one song kept popping in my head – Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”. I have never seen so many beautiful people in one film. As you have noticed, the word “actor” has purposefully been avoided – celebrities and beautiful people are a more accurate description of what director Garry Marshall has delivered.

Thankfully, he tossed in Hector Elizonda, Shirley Maclaine and George Lopez or the movie might have done for plastic surgery what Urban Cowboy did for C&W dancing. On top of the beauty, we are subjected to an endless stream of downright SKINNY people! Everyone has noticed Taylor Swift is rail thin, but she doesn’t even stand out here. Jessica Biel, who once had a real-life body, looks cadaverous. Even her character exists on candy and treadmills. Throw in Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba, and one can make the argument that the cost for this cast was offset by the lack of necessity for an on-set lunch buffet.

Look, I realize this is just a chick flick comedy that is designed to poke a bit of fun at our need to love and be loved … or rather just not be alone. But a touch of reality could have helped. Raise your hand if you believe Julia Roberts might be miscast as the soldier returning home on leave from the front lines of war. Or that a brilliant doctor (Patrick Dempsey) might be a little more careful in covering his tracks of indiscretion? Or that Anne Hathaway couldn’t find a slightly more rewarding way to earn a living than her “phone entertainer” job?

Couldn’t help but notice the Pretty Woman connections with Garry Marshall, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizando and Larry Miller. Ms. Roberts even gets in a funny little jab over the closing credits. Some attempt was made to interconnect the multiple story lines and I do appreciate the struggle to show intimacy in the mess of Los Angeles … just too many obvious skits and stereotypes to make this anything more than a half-hearted effort by all involved.  And by “all”, I am including the 10-12 other “stars” that I have not named here.