In 2012 Kyrie Irving took the internet by storm with his “Uncle Drew” commercials for Pepsi. The premise was simple, put Kyrie in prostetic make up to make him look like an old man and let him hoop with unsuspecting players. This ad campaign went viral. It was as successful as any commercial could be by having a long life on the internet and spawning more commercials over the next several years. The commercials worked because they were fun. It’s fun to watch Kyrie cook dudes on a basketball court. These commercials tried to be more than that by having Drew travel around the country to put his team back together and teach the “youngbloods” how to play the game. This brought about some fun cameos over the years with Kevin Love, Nate Robinson, Maya Moore and Ray Allen joining the team. Kyrie also wrote and directed these spots which makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.
This successful ad campaign has become the latest in a long line of pre existing intellectual property to become movie fodder for a studio. June 29th, Uncle Drew was released by Lionsgate and Summit. The challenges in turning a commercial into a full length feature are many, but the biggest has to be the story. There wasn’t much in the ad campaign for screen writer Jay Longino to work with. All that the ad gives him is Uncle Drew putting his team back together, which isn’t that compelling of a story. Longino decided to take that story and combine it with a redemption story. Dax (Lil Rel Howery) spent all of his life savings to enter a team in the Rucker Classic. Winning this tournament is so important for him because his own hoop dreams were dashed after getting humiliated in a big game as a kid. To further fuel his fire the winner of the past several Rucker Classics is Mookie (Nick Kroll), who was responsible for humiliating Dax by blocking his shot. After loosing his team, he finds Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), an old streetball legend who is disgusted with the way the game is played today. Dax convinces Drew to join his team on the condition that Drew can pick the players. This is a fairly straightforward plot, which is really how you can describe the movie as a whole, straightforward. There isn’t anything new being presented, if you have ever seen a basketball movie then you have seen Uncle Drew. In-and-of-itself this isn’t a bad approach. You don’t see Uncle Drew for a deep and intricate plot, so a straightforward screenplay makes sense. The only problem is that it feels tired and unoriginal, so when there is no basketball there is nothing to see.
What you are there to see is Uncle Drew and his friends play basketball. Casting in this instance is critical to the movie’s success. You have to cast athletes that people want to see. In the commercials Drew’s team consisted of mostly current players. This time around Drew’s old streetball consists of former players playing characters with unnessecarily cheesy gimmicks, a nearly blind Lights (Reggie Miller), Preacher (Chris Webber), Kung Fu master Big Fella (Shaq) and a wheelchair riddened Boots (Nate Robinson). This was an eye roll for me on a couple of different fronts. First as great as these players are, they don’t play basketball anymore and I’m not all that interested in seeing a 45 year old Chris Webber shoot mid range jumpshots. There are plenty of great current players that could have been casted and that would have made it more fun. The other problem with this is that these characters are already elderly, they don’t need more setbacks. It doesn’t provide more humor, which I assume is the intended purpose, it just makes it all the more ridiculous. There are several flaws in Uncle Drew but the biggest is the casting, none of the people drive interest and there were better choices to be made.
As for the actors that were casted, they all make sense on paper but that was about it. Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish (Jess) and Nick Kroll have all found success in recent years. They are funny people and fun actors but all throughout this movie they fell short. Tiffany Haddish is playing a character similar to other characters she’s played so her performance just comes off as tired. Nick Kroll was almost unbearable. I don’t exactly know what his character was supposed to be but it was unwatchable and almost offensive. Lil Rel Howery was the only thing that was legitametly exciting for me. I’ve have only seen him in a few things but he was good in those things and I was interested in what he would do with this. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see. He essentially functions as the star of the movie so we get a lot of him and by the end of the movie he becomes a bit grating. It almost feels if he was doing a bad Kevin Hart impression. This isn’t all his fault, he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with but there is only so much yelling I can take.
Uncle Drew is a ridiculous movie with a ridiculous plot and doesn’t provide much in the way of good storytelling. However, this didn’t have to be good, just entertaining. It does provide a level of entertainment value for some. If you like Shaq and the Uncle Drew character, then this will be fun. If you like basketball players dressed up as old men and women (Lisa Leslie plays Betty Lou and joins the team) playing basketball, then you’ll enjoy this. It’s unfortunate that the movie as a whole couldn’t be better but there were no expectations for that. The basketball sequences are fun in the same way the commercials were and in the end that is all that really matters. I didn’t like this movie but I’m not surprised if others have fun with it.
1 out of 5 stars
Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Jay Longino
Cast: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson,
Lisa Leslie, Erica Ash, Tiffany Haddish & Nick Kroll
Release Date: June 29th
Runtime: 1 hour and 43 minutes
Image Credit: Imdb