Yeah, it sounds goofy and gimmicky as hell, but roll with it. First up, we have Drew (Kyrie Irving), a streetball legend who’s more myth than man. He rounds up his old buddies to play in a tournament game back in Rucker Park, the legendary streetball court where they got their start. There’s Preacher (Chris Webber), who mostly goes to escape his bat-carrying wife (WNBA star Lisa Leslie, so you know you’ll see her hoop, eventually); Lights (Reggie Miller), the star shooter who’s basically blind now; Boots (Nate Robinson), who somehow snaps out of his senile, catatonic state when Drew passes him a basketball; and Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), a martial-arts teacher who holds a grudge with Drew over one night he spent with the Fella’s lady a long time ago.
Drew also is committed to reminding America not to see poor people as ain’t-shit folk, either. They’re represented by Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a team coach who gets Drew and the gang to play in the tournament when he loses his star player (Orlando Magic player Aaron Gordon) as well as his gold-digging girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish, who must’ve taken this hardly written role as a favor to Howery, her former costar on The Carmichael Show). The additions go to longtime rival Mookie (a ridiculously wiggerific Nick Kroll), the street champion who once blocked a shot Dax attempted at a game when they were kids and now, for some strange, sociopathic reason, makes Dax’s life a living hell.
The movie is based on the commercials Irving did for Pepsi a few years back, where he got dolled up like an old fart and dunked on unsuspecting youngsters. (Thankfully, Pepsi, which also produced the movie, doesn’t turn this into a huge soda commercial. Nike gets more play.) But Jay Longino’s sap-filled script turns Drew into a mythological Zen master, dispensing words of wisdom after living a life of solitude and regrets when he’s not chasing after buckets. Nearly everyone who isn’t covered in makeup and pretending to be old are just underwritten assholes. Even Howery’s protagonist is a spineless fool made sympathetic by the filmmakers who portray him as a pitiful orphan. The villain, Dax, is more appealing, as Howery displays a manic, hyper, fast-riffing energy, making Uncle Drew his opportunity to show Hollywood he’s available for the roles Kevin Hart turns down.
In its obnoxious-but-cheerful way, Uncle Drew tries to make the case that people shouldn’t underestimate those who are older or less successful than they are. They might have game, too. (Since most of these basketball stars are pushing 50 and can still take these youngsters to the hole in real life, putting on a fake face and acting all geriatric almost seems pointless.) It’s no wonder Charles Stone III, a former commercial director (he created Budweiser’s “Whazzup!” ads, one of which makes a cameo) was brought on to direct. His films (including the underrated trio of Paid in Full, Drumline and the criminally neglected Bernie Mac vehicle Mr. 3000) often have dealt with themes of overlooked, underappreciated men overcoming obstacles and proving themselves in spectacular fashions.
Yes, Uncle Drew is a silly, sentimental chance to see some not-bad-at-acting NBA legends dress like geezers, but it’s also a reminder to all these cocky millennials to keep their egos in check when grown folks are talking.