Uncle Drew

(Stone III, 2018)

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Some movies are not meant to appeal to wide audiences. Some are meant for niche audiences who are “in on the joke.” Such was the case with The Lonely Island’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a film that fans of the musical comedy group were sure to love and a film that I found painfully unfunny and overflowing with kitsch. Uncle Drew is another niche comedy, one for NBA fans who understand the references and can recognize the film’s athletes-turned-actors (Kyrie Irving, Shaq, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Reggie Miller).

Luckily for the general public, Uncle Drew is not as niche as it seems on the surface. The most obscure scenes are the ones that that heavily feature the basketball stars, but the scenes that center around the non-athlete characters (portrayed by Lil Rel, Tiffany Haddish and Nick Kroll) are relatively accessible. Lil Rel plays Dax, the manager of a streetball team who loses his star player and girlfriend (Haddish) to a rival coach named Mookie (Kroll). In an effort to win an infamous tournament and its coveted cash prize, Dax works to assemble a group of streetball legends who haven’t played together in decades. The scenes between Howery, Haddish and Kroll are pretty standard comedic fare, featuring creative profanities and trash-talking. Haddish and Kroll bring a welcome burst of energy, especially when juxtaposed with Lil Rel’s straight man routine.

Uncle Drew has a lot going for it: a talented cast, bankable premise and product placement out the wazoo (the entire film is an adaptation of a series of Pepsi Max commercials). That being said, the film buckles under its overly sentimental script, meandering plotlines and lack of cohesion. Half of the movie is an underdog sports story and the other half is a slapstick geriatric road trip. Both are fine ideas on their own, and could have worked as half hour or forty five minute shorts, but they begin to feel stale the longer you watch them. Though it’s nice to see Bestie nominee Lil Rel Howery take on his first leading role, Uncle Drew relies too heavily on its NBA jokes and references to be totally accessible. It is a basketball movie for basketball fans, and if you’re not of that world, you may struggle to connect with this underdog comedy. There are a good number of laughs and the makeup is certainly a highlight, but unless you’re confident you’ll like Uncle Drew, you may want to skip this one. ★★★

David Merkle