2018 has been one of the most crowded, unexpected and enjoyable summer blockbuster seasons in recent memory. Between mammoth crossover events, unnecessary prequels, enjoyable sci-fi romps, and pleasantly surprising comedy outings, there has been something for everyone this year. The question is, with two months left to go, how much room have the big players left for the underdogs this Summer? With Marvel, Disney, and Universal hoovering up the box office thus far, this is the oddly ironic question begged by screwball sports comedy, Uncle Drew.
The narrative follows Dax (Lil Rey Howery), a down-on-his-luck basketball coach, who loses his team after spending his life savings entering the Rucker Classic Street Ball tournament. Dax then embarks on a comical journey to reunite a former NBA legend with his old team for one last tournament, in order to win the prize money and regain his dignity in the process.
The film, directed by Charles Stone III (Mr 3000), stars a range of basketball personalities from the legendary Shaquille O'Neal to Nate Robinson and Kyrie Irving. Uncle Drew, is originally based on a series of Pepsi Max advertisements starring Iriving as the character of the same name. Unfortunately if this sounds like shaky ground to base an entire film on, then the finished product wont do much to sway skeptical viewers. This is largely due to frequent reminders of the films origin, with a multitude of painfully blatant uses of product placement, and an overabundance of enterprise rent-A-car logos. As a result, this often acts as a sad reality check that detracts from any remote moments of enjoyment or laughter. In that sense, one cant help but be reminded of 1996's Space Jam, which saw Michael Jordan dominate the big screen in similarly-crafted adveritising vehicle.
This isn't to say that there aren't humorous moments throughout its relatively tight runtime of 103 minutes. Often however, it seems as if the script is under the impression its far more witty and hilarious than the actual reality. The initial novelty of seeing a range of NBA stars in heavy prosthetics as elderly men quickly wears off. This is only emphasised during an awkward and out-of-place outtake reel in the end credits, revealing the sad truth behind the films biggest joke. On the other hand, basketball fans will definitely get a kick out of seeing their heroes on the big screen.
Despite the occasionally cringeworthy humour and unimaginative storytelling, Uncle Drew does boast some impressive performances from its main cast. Lil Rey Howery does a solid job as the central protagonist. The Get Out star easily carries the film as its light-hearted, insecure, everyman with a key lesson to learned. Nick Kroll quickly establishes himself as a scene-stealer early on in the film, as Dax's hot-headed rival. As the vulgar and overly-aggressive villain of the piece, Kroll excels in what is undoubtedly the funniest aspect of Uncle Drew. Irving and O' Neal also stand out as former team mates with an unresolved grudge. While this could have been fleshed out further, their on-screen chemistry keeps things ticking over nicely, with a surprising amount of heart.
Uncle Drew could have become a comedy classic with a little bit of fine-tuning, but unfortunately comes across as a greatest hits of every sports movie from Dodgeball to Cool Runnings. This results in a predictable, by-the-numbers product, clearly designed for the purpose of selling other products to its viewers. Casual moviegoers will easily enjoy the film as an afternoon of Sunday entertainment, but this is hardly summer blockbuster we were promised.