Kyrie Irving joins Lil Rel Howery for Tired Basketball Comedy
DIRECTED BY CHARLES STONE III / 2018
Uncle Drew is not as bad as you might expect a 5-minute sketch stretched out to 100 minutes to be, but it’s not a good movie. First given life by a web-series of digital shorts designed to sell Pepsi, Uncle Drew, a legendary, if fictional, basketball player from the 1970’s, jumps onto the big screen. Unfortunately, despite some game performances and excellent displays of athletic skill, Uncle Drew the movie misses shot after shot. Its jokes and situations are older than its eponymous hero is supposed to be, and half again as tired.
Derivative and predictable, Uncle Drew is stitched together from the leftover parts of other comedies- and they weren’t always the good comedies. The basic plot is just another riff on ‘getting the band back together’ that so many films have done, but has never been topped by The Blues Brothers. There’s old people acting like they haven’t been paying any attention to the last four decades. There’s a dance-off sequence in a nightclub that’s supposed to be funny because- hey, Old people dancing! Just saw that one a few weeks back in Life of the Party. One of the characters even says “You don’t stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing,” the oft-repeated line from the recent Tag.
Derivative and predictable
What’s worse, half the cast was trucked in from the Uncanny Valley. Uncle Drew gets most of its comedy mileage out of the spectacle of elderly men and women performing amazing feats of athletic prowess. Instead of casting old people and replacing them with doubles for key stunts, however, Uncle Drew casts athletes and dunks them in a big bucket of latex. Old-age makeup has been the Achilles heel of countless movies- usually dramas where we’re supposed to be taking things seriously. Bad makeup is not as fatal to a comedy- especially one meant to be viewed on a computer screen- but here it’s featured so prominently on major members of the cast and projected onto the big screen. It’s distracting from the start, and you never really get used to it.
So what is Uncle Drew about? Our hero, the hapless Dax (Lil Rel Howery- Rod the TSA agent from Get Out) has pinned all of his dreams- and his life savings- in winning the Rucker Classic Basketball Tournament. However, his team is stolen by his arch-rival, Mookie (Nick Kroll, Sausage Party), and Dax is left desperate. Luckily, Dax stumbles upon a living legend of the basketball court- Uncle Drew (played here, as he was in the Pepsi Max digital shorts, by Kyrie Irving).
Drew agrees to play for Dax on one condition- that Drew is the one who gets to assemble the team. Dax doesn’t have much choice and agrees- only to regret that decision when Drew begins assembling his old teammates- and I do mean old. NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and WNBA star Lisa Leslie, all sporting that old-age makeup in varying shades of unconvincing, join the team.
Many of the sports sequences were exciting- but hey, film legendary professional basketball players playing basketball, and you’d have to go out of your way to make that boring. Director Charles Stone III is no stranger to sports and sports comedies, having directed films like Drumline, and Mr. 3000 as well as an episode of Friday Night Lights. He does fine work here, although no sequence, including the climatic showdown, is as exciting as an early one where Uncle Drew shows up a mouthy young player.
The minds behind Uncle Drew took the easy way out
Just because Uncle Drew began its life as a series of soda commercials, doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie was going to be bad. It admittedly has a steep uphill climb, mind you, but the concept’s origin, in and of itself isn’t a strike against the film. The movie’s success all depends on how you take that thin germ of a idea and grow it into something that will hold your attention and entertain you over the course of 100 minutes. Unfortunately, the minds behind Uncle Drew took the easy way out. They padded the film with the laziest, most overused tropes- many of which weren’t even that funny when they were still fresh.