Uncle Drew

Uncle Drew

2018, PG-13, 103 min. Directed by Charles Stone III. Starring Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Chris Webber, Erica Ash, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., July 6, 2018

The 1990s were a banner decade for professional basketball players looking to establish themselves as actors. From Shaquille O’Neal (Kazaam) to Michael Jordan (Space Jam) to Ray Allen (He Got Game), NBA stars could be found in blockbusters and prestige pictures alike, often accompanied by marketing campaigns that leaned heavily on their celebrity to promote the film. With that in mind, the biggest surprise about Uncle Drew isn’t that Lionsgate has funded a feature-length adaptation of a popular Pepsi commercial, but that it’s taken someone this long to recycle that idea. Believe it or not, it still kinda works.

Ever since he cost his team the championship game in middle school, Dax (Howery) has been willing to leverage everything to become the coach of a successful outdoor basketball team. When his old rival (Kroll) steals his best players out from under him, Dax goes in search of the streetball legend Uncle Drew (Irving), a former phenom who has spent decades out of the spotlight. To Dax’s delight, Drew agrees to help him win this year’s streetball championship, but there’s a catch: Dax must help Drew track down each of his teammates from the Sixties so they can win (or lose) together one last time.

The big draw of Uncle Drew, of course, is watching professional athletes try their hand at physical comedy under layers of silicon. Surprisingly, these performances are often the best part of the movie. O’Neal is old hat at this type of movie, but it’s relative newcomers like Chris Webber and Reggie Miller that steal the show. Howery also holds his own as a comedy leading man, showing that his breakout role as conspiracy theorist TSA agent Rod in Jordan Peele’s Get Out was no fluke. Together, Howery and his cadre of newly minted actors wring a surprising amount of humor  –  and even a few heartfelt moments  – out of the movie’s slight premise.

Since Uncle Drew is an unapologetic throwback to Nineties comedy, you can also expect a steady barrage of self-referential humor. In one memorable scene, Preacher (Webber) is gently chided about the number of time-outs in the game, a callback to Webber’s disastrous mental lapse during the 1993 NCAA championship game. Even Howery’s character gets into the action, quipping that he’s afraid to get in a car with white strangers ever since he saw Get Out.

Of course, Nineties nostalgia cuts both ways, and the story elements that make this all so pleasantly familiar also limit its creativity. If the humor seems modeled after Nineties blockbusters like Last Action Hero and Space Jam, the storyline bears more in common with children’s sports movies. Uncle Drew also commits the major sin of relegating Tiffany Haddish to the role of shrewish ex-girlfriend. For better and worse, Uncle Drew feels like the kind of movie that would’ve cleaned up in the summer of 1998. We’ll see how well its game holds up 20 years later.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Charles Stone III Films
Mr. 3000
This Bernie Mac baseball flick is standard genre fare.

Marrit Ingman, Sept. 17, 2004

Drumline
Would that marching band had been regarded as half as cool when I was tromping around my high school football field with a clarinet and ...

Kimberley Jones, Dec. 13, 2002

More by Matthew Monagle
Fantastic Fest Review: <i>Bad Times at the El Royale</i>
FF 2018: Bad Times at the El Royale
Was it good times for the Fantastic Fest closing film?

Oct. 3, 2018

Hold the Dark
Humanity's animal instincts exposed in the Alaskan wilderness

Sept. 28, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Uncle Drew, Charles Stone III, Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Chris Webber, Erica Ash, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle