Starring: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Erica Ash, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, Mike Epps
Director: Charles Stone III
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for General Shenanigans and a 7-Foot-Tall Man’s Bare Behind
Release Date: June 29, 2018
One of the joys of growing up in the 1990s was savoring the plethora of sports movies and athletes moonlighting as movie stars. It was something of a golden age, or at least that’s how it appeared to my impressionable mind. There were the minor, but era-defining hits like Rookie of the Year, Shaq was basically allowed to do whatever he wanted, even Dennis Rodman teamed up with Jean-Claude van Damme before he became buddies with Kim Jong Un. And of course there was the landmark success of Space Jam. This is all to say, movies like Uncle Drew, which stars NBA star Kyrie Irving as a character he originated for Pepsi Max, don’t really get made anymore. And while it certainly does not reinvent the sports flick or old-people-drag genres, it is heartening to know that something like this can still exist.
The title character, a Harlem streetball legend spoken about in mythical terms, certainly plays into a desire to return to past glories, as he chastises and schools young ballers on the right way to play the game. He is also prone to decry the “rappity-hippity-hop” music of today’s “youngbloods,” instead preferring to listen to hours-long funk jams on the eight-track player in his vintage van. But the film manages to avoid unhealthy nostalgia, as Drew’s version of the past is too goofy and demented to tempt anyone away from dismissing reality. The humor of this team of old farts, while certainly broadly drawn, is based on actual characterization instead of shallow punch lines. Actual NBA and WNBA stars like Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie have plenty of natural charisma. And there is just something inherently satisfying about dressing Shaq up like Wolverine’s grandfather and continuing to rib Chris Webber for one of the biggest mental lapses in basketball history.
What will make Uncle Drew a great choice over the coming years to watch for the hundredth time with friends is its fundamental niceness. We come to meet Drew via Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a streetball manager dedicated to the game but who gave up playing it years ago after a mortifying middle school defeat. Recently homeless, he is desperate to win the $100,000 grand prize at a high-profile Harlem tournament, thus why he turns to Drew and his band of old coots despite their clashing personalities and body temperatures. When the team finds out about Dax’s financial troubles, they feel a little betrayed upon discovering his true motivations, but they mostly encourage him to get back in touch with his love of the game. That ethos of bonhomie is matched by Uncle Drew‘s fundamentally welcome silliness and lovingly shot footage of between-the-legs dribbling, lights-out three pointers, and slam dunks.
Uncle Drew is Recommended If You Like: Space Jam, Coming to America, ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries
Grade: 3 out of 5 Boom Boom Rooms