You don’t see as many sports films in recent years compared to what we used to see back in the 80s and 90s. Even the sports films we do see these days rarely feature actual sports stars, and there’s generally a reason for that. While Michael Jordan was an amazing NBA player, his acting chops weren’t the best when he starred in Space Jam. Space Jam 2 is on the way, starring LeBron James, but before we get to that, NBA legends old and new joined together to create Uncle Drew. Let’s take a closer look in our Uncle Drew review.
Pepsi and NBA star, Kyrie Irving, created Uncle Drew as a short film advertisement for Pepsi Max. The original short film currently has over 52 million views on YouTube, with subsequent chapters garnering over 20 million views. Those original shorts debuted in 2012, which means it’s taken awhile for the property to make the transition from a short film to a feature-length production. In addition, some of the cast members have changed, bringing in a few NBA legends to replace some of the current NBA stars that appeared in the short films.
The story of the new film follows Dax (Lil Rel Howery), as he seeks out a team to play in the Rucker 50th anniversary streetball tournament. His girlfriend, Jess (Tiffany Haddish) leaves him for rival streetball coach, Mookie (Nick Kroll), who is essentially the streetball version of Kroll’s character from The League TV series. As Dax looks for a new team he comes across the aging street ball legend, Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), and agrees to go on a road trip to find Drew’s former geriatric teammates, Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller) and Boots (Nate Robinson).
At the surface, Uncle Drew is a fun basketball movie, with little substance. The NBA players are better actors than you might expect, and do a serviceable job mimicking the elderly. There are a decent amount of jokes, with a few inside jabs for NBA fans, but overall it’s not meant to be on par with classic street ball films such as White Men Can’t Jump. In fact, at close to two hours in run time, Uncle Drew pushes how long it can keep an audience engaged. You will laugh, and the film is fun, but there are some points that drag and a few pacing issues. If it clocked in at around 90 minutes, the film would’ve flowed quite a bit better.
Run time issues aside, if you’re not a basketball fan, there’s not much here for you in Uncle Drew. Most of the humor only registers because it’s an NBA legend break dancing in old man makeup, not because it’s actually a funny scene in its own right. Even a general audience will get a few laughs out of Uncle Drew, but it’s definitely focused at longtime NBA fans more so than the general public.
The original Pepsi Max shorts were written by Kyrie Irving, but the film was written by Jay Longino, who doesn’t have a very successful writing track record. All the pieces are here, but a better comedic writer probably could have expanded on the premise and given the film far more substance. Uncle Drew could’ve released side-by-side with those cheesy 90s one-off films and you wouldn’t see much of a difference.
Uncle Drew is entertaining, but light on substance. If you’ve got some time to spare this weekend and enjoy basketball, you won’t regret checking it out. However, it’s not a film that you’ll need to see more than once, and you’ll quickly forget about even the best jokes shortly after leaving the theater. There’s a solid foundation here that was squandered by poor writing and a lengthy run time. That’s not to say it’s not a bad movie by any means, but there’s a lot more the creative team could’ve done with these characters to make this a breakout hit of the summer. As it stands, Uncle Drew is worth a watch (especially if you’re an NBA fan), but it’s probably better to catch it on cable rather than going out of your way to hit the movie theaters.
About Uncle Drew
Synopsis: After draining his life savings to enter a team in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem, Dax is dealt a series of unfortunate setbacks, including losing his team to his longtime rival. Desperate to win the tournament and the cash prize, Dax stumbles upon the man, the myth, the legend Uncle Drew and convinces him to return to the court one more time. The two men embark on a road trip to round up Drew’s old basketball squad and prove that a group of septuagenarians can still win the big one.
Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Jay Longino
Stars: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie
Runtime: 1 Hour, 43 Minutes