Adam Sandler stars as Stanley Sugarman, a weary basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who travels across the globe in search of talent. When he discovers Spaniard Bo Cruz by chance, he knows he's found something special.
"Guys in their fifties don't have dreams, they have nightmares and exzema," says Sugarman, as he boards yet another plane in search of international talent. On the job for over twenty years, Sugarman's dream was to be a courtside coach. But when it seems like his dues have well and truly been paid, the owner's seedy son (Ben Foster) sends him back out on the road to find a new star.
While scouting in Spain, the player Sugarman is supposed to be looking at is injured, so he leaves the arena and heads over to a excited crowd gathered around a street basketball game.
There, he spots the incredible talent of Bo Cruz - played by NBA player Juancho Hernangómez - with his colossal 6'7 frame running the show. Sugarman knows he's got his man, but it's never as easy as it sounds.
As a basketball fanatic - and wearer of those ludicrously large shorts - 'Hustle' feels like a movie Sandler has been waiting to star in for years. The role of Stanley comes naturally to him and the emotional depth he reaches is impressive.
It's not a new discovery to uncover that Sandler has the facilities to be a brilliant actor when he's not playing a blubbering man-child. 'Uncut Gems' and 'The Meyorowitz Stories' cemented that fact recently. But his performance in 'Hustle' adds another string to his bow. Sandler turns the dial down and uses subtle humour and smart comedic timing to round out an emotional and believable character. Stanley is empathetic, good-hearted and realistic throughout. It's almost as if Sandler has taken the foot off the gas powering the shtick of his past roles entirely and is simply just playing himself.
Starring alongside Sandler, The 26-year-old Herangómez gives a performance pretty much in line with what you would expect from someone who has never acted before. But he does rise to the occasion in some scenes involving the characters family and background plotlines. He bounces off Sandler's playfulness well in their scenes together, creating a wholesome father and son dynamic.
We also get decent performances from the under-used Queen Latifah, who plays Stanley's wife Teresa. Foster as Vince Merrick, the slimy son of Robert Duvall's Rex, is suitably infuriating, doing well to get his snideness across with such little screen time.
If there are any complaints, it's that we don't get much of any supporting actor in this two-man show. We do, however, get a boatload of NBA cameos which, if you're familiar with the sport, may become slightly exhausting. One standout, however, is Anthony Edwards, who plays a nasty league hopeful who butts heads with Bo more than once.
Sports movies are a niche in their own right and it's easy to fall into surface level clichés. 'Hustle' of course skirts close the cookie-cutter archetypes of the genre and the plot is a pretty predictable ride from start to finish. But it's hard not to cut it any slack for the graceful way it goes about it. There's a lot of montages of Bo running up a hill and performing endless training drills to motivational music, but once you know that's the game you signed up for, you'll be more than happy to play along.
Despite the clichéd elements to 'Hustle', it's a slickly-made flick that carries out its predictability with smooth professionalism, taking you on a globe-trotting journey that gives outsiders a real insight into the behind-the-scenes affairs of a major sporting outfit, away from the courtside glamour.
Guys in their fifties may not have dreams, but if Sandler keeps giving performances like this, maybe he can start to dream once awards season comes back around.
'Hustle' premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, June 8.