Expanding from a short film to a feature length film is always a risky proposition. What may have worked is a few minutes or twenty isn’t necessarily doing to work when stretched out to ninety or longer. That is even riskier when said short is heavily dependent on a gimmick or twist. The suspense or the joke may work in that brief time span, but stretched out to a full length, it can become tiresome or the new content feel detached or just lesser. It doesn’t matter the genre, from Cashback to Mama to almost every SNL film, the film landscape is littered with failed attempts at expanding something that worked well in small doses. It’s not impossible though as Sling Blade, Evil Dead, Office Space, etc. prove, but taking a series of ads for a terrible beverage is another challenge all together. A not unpleasant series of ads, but one whose gimmick was already running stale four ads in.
Written, directed, and starring NBA star Kyrie Irving, the ads followed a simple premise, professional basketball players dressed up as old men (or in one case an old woman) would take on streetball games and hustle the rest of the players there. Charles Stone III, a music video director including for this great one, but also to blame for directing the “Whassup?” ad and whose career started at Drumline and only went down from there, takes the helm from Irving and handles the job with competence if nothing more. The film goes the obvious route with the standard sports and the getting the band back together narratives (hey, the latter worked for the far and away most successful expanded SNL sketch movie, The Blues Brothers). It’s hardly inspired, but it does provide a solid through line to string the movie along. The film also wisely chooses to focus on Get Out‘s Lil Rel Howery (who references his own damn movie) and his efforts to recruit a replacement team after his old team are stolen by Nick Kroll, someone whose appeal I continue to fail to get. I say wisely because Irving to put it charitably, much more talented at basketball than acting. He does fine with the comedic quips, but anytime they try for something more serious, it’s pretty bad.
While the originally shorts included Kevin Love, Maya Moore, Baron Davis, Ray Allen, Nate Robinson, and non-athlete J.B. Smoove, only the latter two return and Robinson does so in a different role. The new team along with Irving and Robinson consists of Chris Webber (with Lisa Leslie as his wife), Reggie Miller, and of course the main draw and highlight of the film Shaquille O’Neal all buried under silly old age makeup. They give fun performances and are all allowed to let loose both on the court in scenes reminiscent of the original shorts and off. It’s the simple pleasures that work best and it helps how committed everyone is to the film. They are also supported by Survivor’s Remorse‘s charming Erica Ash, a newly ubiquitous Tiffany Haddish giving a broad if better at it than Kroll performance, and current NBA-er Aaron Gordon who I had never heard of before and was surprisingly entertaining as the one basketball player freed from that makeup and mostly just asked to trash talk.
I went into Uncle Drew just hoping for some nice silly fun and that is exactly what I got. Your opinion of it is definitely going to be affected by your basketball knowledge (not current, more historical which certainly benefited me), but there’s nothing too deep in regard to that. It’s just a bunch of interesting personalities clearly having fun together with the competent if standard plotting keeping things moving and keeping it from getting lost.