Rated: PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: June 22, 2018 Released by: Summit Entertainment
Uninspired, though amusing at times, at least for NBA fans, is the new sports comedy from Charles Stone III (Mr. 3000, Drumline) which aims to reach beyond urban venues just after the league's widely promoted annual draft.
Uncle Drew gets mileage out of the Pepsi Co. and Nike - the latter in terms of product placement in its efforts to spread love for the game draw from a web series featuring Boston Celtics star recuperating from knee surgery, Kyrie Irving. The opening offers a mythical perspective through the ESPN 30 For 30 format. Traits and dilemmas tip off early how this contest will unfold.
Irving in the eponymous role (encased in old-age makeup) really isn't the protagonist — that would be Lil Rel Howery's Dax, a thirty-something Foot Locker guy having trouble paying the rent. But, he's fixated on getting his mojo back on the court as a coach (since a last-second block left him reeling) for an inviting tournament at Harlem's Rucker Park.
Drew is cajoled enough by Dax to instill the old-school feeling to the 'young-bloods'. Like The Blues Brothers it's like getting the band back together — in this case the former squad who appear to have more in common with the Harlem Globetrotters than with graying, wrinkled peers. There's Preacher (Chris Webber), legally blind Lights (Reggie Miller), Boots (Nate Robinson), Betty Lou (former WNBA star Lisa Leslie), and, of course, Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal, remembered from Blue Chips which starred Nick Nolte as a Bobby Knight type).
Jay Longino's run-of-the-mill script deals with the obstinate ways of Big Fella and Drew, not to mention Dax's nightmarish adversary, Mookie (Nick Kroll) who has made off with his strident girlfriend Jess (the ubiquitous Tiffany Haddish of Girls Night Out and emcee of the recent MTV Movie Awards) and key player Casper (Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon). Tensions also arise between Preacher and Betty Lou when he chooses the court over the pulpit.
It's too bad that Howery (Get Out) and Haddish are confined by what could have been more free-form, but predicated on surviving and advancing through clichés which leaves their experience in one-note territory. O'Neal definitely is a veteran presence in this medium for the hoopsters, as Irving is admirably understated, if occasionally too much so. Miller's Lights is lights out when it comes to three-point shooting and making goofy visages to elicit the desired reaction. Robinson cobbles up his smaller Boots well enough, even enough to show up Big Fella.
Stone saves the best for what comes after the conclusion that is more reigned in and humorous, if mean-spirited on the court. Webber and Miller (both 'Inside The NBA on TNT' analysts) are part of the bits that will fondly stoke the memories of basketball aficionados. Even if "Uncle Drew" really doesn't enjoin hoop dreams in rousing, contemporary fashion to make its progenitor look more savvy, at least as an exciting buzzer-beater.