The plot goes: 1) The humble beginnings of underdog nobodies; 2) the first flash of massive talent (or outstanding levels of grit, or both); 3) the first depressing beatdown; 4) the pep talks; 5) the second depressing beatdown; 6) the get-in-shape (or hone-the-skills, or both) montage; and 7) the third-act showdown payoff.
This "formula" is always as delicious as that Gruyère cheeseburger with the red onion, on the crunchy English muffin bun (and you're free to empty the whole ketchup bottle), that you’ll drive across town for. “Hustle,” releasing on June 8 on Netflix, is very tasty.
What Goes OnFull-bearded Stanley Sugerman (Sandler) is a longtime Philadelphia 76ers talent scout, whose work life largely consists of international jetting about looking for hidden superstars in other countries, staying at five-star hotels, and downing the type of artery-clogging American fast-food franchise fare that usually dominates the diets of bachelors.
However, Stan’s married to former track star Teresa (Queen Latifah), whom he met when he himself was a red-hot, fast-track, college varsity hoopster. Stan’s fate was sealed when a DUI accident shattered his shooting hand.
Luckily, Stan loves his job, even though it separates him for weeks at a time from Teresa and their teenage daughter (Jordan Hull), whose birthday he’s missed repeatedly.
On the Prowl in EuropeAfter a hilarious bit about a very talented Serbian b-ball giant (Dallas Mavericks’ Boban Marjanovic) who looks 38 (but claims he’s the NBA cutoff age of 22), and his 22-ish-looking son (whom he claims is 10), Stan stumbles upon a unicorn in Spain. At a local pick-up game his jaw drops as a 6-foot, 9-inch heavily tattooed kid in beat-up Timberlands swats down 3-pointers, pins would-be dunks thunderously against the backboard, and scores with impunity and flair. Stanley’s in scout heaven; he’s never seen this degree of raw talent.
The kid’s named Bo Cruz, played here by actual Utah Jazz power forward (and Spaniard) Juancho Hernangómez in a surprisingly believable and moving acting debut. Bo, 22, is a construction worker and single dad who flees Stanley’s stalking due to Stanley’s inept use of his translation app. Bo believes he’s being pursued by an adoring older gay man and is convinced only when Stanley manages to get former German NBA legend (and highest-scoring foreign-born player in NBA history) Dirk Nowitzki on FaceTime.
Bo's never played anything but pick-up games. He can hustle money in street ball, but—actual Hoop Dreams? The NBA? Nah. C’mon. He’d rather keep his construction job. When Bo’s petite mom hears Stanley quote the starting NBA rookie salary, she assures Stan that Bo will call in sick for his construction job and leave for America tomorrow.
StatesideStan eventually tells baby-boss Vince—who turns up his nose at diamond-in-the-rough Bo—to take his scouting job demotion and shove it. Stanley, out of desperation, and also for sheer love of the game, puts Bo up in a hotel and trains him on his own dime.
He needs to give the kid some personal finance lessons on not eating room service constantly and leaving the hotel TV porn channel alone. Is Stanley living lost dreams through Bo? Of course. So what?
The main thing that Bo has to learn is to control his temper. He’s got the physical moves down, but he’s in no way, shape, or form prepared for the next-level, get-in-your-head-like-Hannibal-Lecter evil of American professional sports trash talk. The prime example of this is delivered by Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Anthony Edwards (also an actor), who makes an excellent, grating, grinning, insinuating, blood-pressure-raising b-ball villain.
Do You Need to Know the Game?
“Hustle” doesn't demand knowledge of basketball’s rules, regulations, history, or the draft system to work as well as it does. If you don’t know hoops, you’ll miss small details like when they bring in Grayson "The Professor" Scott Boucher, the American streetball player, actor, and former professional basketball player, to assist with Bo’s training.
And if you don’t see the movie, go ahead and YouTube the white (as in “White Men Can’t Jump”) 5-foot, 8-inch, slam-dunking, supernormal-power-level deceptive dribbling Boucher, who often goes into maximum security prisons with a camera crew and confounds the hardcore, 24/7 basketball-playing lifer inmates (who adore him) with his wizardry.
Adam Sandler completely owns this modest, self-deprecating, regret-filled role. And if basketball figures as heavily as it appears to in Sandler’s life, and he’s thinking about another basketball-themed movie, it’s hard to imagine how he’d ever top this story.
The only improvements to his newfound cinematic trajectory would be better soundtracks; it's not elevator music, but sometimes it's related. And for sports movies, you need some fist-pumping hits. But it's early days yet for Sandler's new career.