I’ve been playing basketball since I was a little kid, and I’m obsessed with the history of the sport. I was 10-years-old when two basketball related things came out and I loved them both. One was the movie The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (which had real players like Kareem, Dr. J, and Meadowlark Lemon). I wouldn’t recommend you seek that out. It was really bad. Again, I was 10.
Around the same time, the TV show The White Shadow came out. I do recommend you seek that out (although it always bugged me that actor Kevin Hooks, playing point guard Thorpe, wasn’t a very good ball-handler).
I was in my mid-20s when Space Jam came out, and despite my love of Michael Jordan (and Bugs Bunny), it didn’t look all that intriguing. I’ve never seen it.
So the idea of this movie, based on a Pepsi commercial, seemed like it would be as bad as the movie based on the board game Battleship. Yet when Kyrie Irving, one of the best players in the NBA, dresses up like an old man and schools youngbloods on the basketball courts, it’s a lot of fun. It reminded me of Woody Harrelson acting like the nerdy white guy in White Men Can’t Jump. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum…they actually made a goofy bit of fun that’s a nice escape. In fact, there were two times I laughed so hard, I had tears rolling down my face. One of those involves Tiffany Haddish (who I found so annoying in Girls Trip) breaking up with her boyfriend Lil Rel Howery (who was so hysterical in Get Out). She talks about how she pays for everything and he responded, “I pay for ‘taco tuesday’.”
The other joke had a guy at a dance club making fun of the older guys, saying one of them looked like Frederick Douglass. Now, I’m guessing 90% of the audience won’t even get that, but I can’t remember a diss on screen ever making me laugh harder.
The NBA players include Shaquille O’Neal (who has a nice jab at his former teammate when he says, “Pass the ball, Kobe.”). One of the best outside shooters in NBA history, Reggie Miller, plays a guy that’s legally blind. WNBA legend Lisa Leslie plays the angry wife, that ends up suiting up to play with the guys. It reminded me of the Blues Brothers when Aretha Franklin doesn’t want her husband getting back with the band, although she turns more into the Carrie Fisher character as she maniacally chases them down. It’s also similar in the fact that they’re “getting the team back together.”
Chris Webber plays a preacher (and he gets made fun of for his blunder in calling a timeout during the NCAA finals game when Michigan didn’t have any timeouts). So yeah, this movie works a lot better if you’re a basketball fan. Especially when the movie starts with legendary former players talking about the talents of Uncle Drew. We see Jerry West (who the NBA logo is based on), San Diegan Bill Walton, Chris Mullin, George Gervin, and many others.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a basketball fan to enjoy this. There are enough jokes and goofy shenanigans for everyone.
The guys all assemble in this groovy orange, custom painted van right out of the ‘70s. As Lil Rel says, “This is like if Billy Dee Williams and Diana Ross had a love child…they would’ve had it in this van.”
They’re on the road to play the Rucker Classic, which is a legendary tournament in NYC.
Lil Rel plays Dax, who is coaching a team that has abandoned him to play for a rival coach. He’s played hysterically by Nick Kroll. Kroll (named Mookie, which I suppose is a tribute to Mookie Blaylock), has stolen his best player (played by Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon), stolen his girlfriend, and is even wearing his old clothes. Their rivalry goes back to when they were kids, and Dax had his game winning shot blocked by Mookie. It haunts him still (the way Robin Williams dropping the touchdown pass in Best of Times haunted him).
One of the things that bothered me is Uncle Drew, who reminded me of Bill Russell with all his white hair, often talks about teaching the younger guys how to play “the right way” and the “love of the game.” Yet when we see his games, he’s showboating and instead of making an easy layup, he’ll throw the ball off the backboard so a teammate can dunk it. That’s not exactly practicing what you preach, but hey…it makes for more fun basketball montages.
There’s a lot of fun watching Dax riff on various things, including the collection of 8-tracks in the van (“Is that some audio book, or an Atari cartridge?”). And remember the fun barbershop scenes in Coming to America? They have one here, with the always hysterical J.B. Smoove.
Look, this isn’t Citizen Kane. But, it’s also not Kazaam. It’s just a fun time at the movies, and brought back some fond memories of why I fell in love with basketball.
3 stars out of 5.