Per Matt
Never fear, awards season is here! And the award for the first physical screener to arrive at my house via the U.S. Postal Service is… Hustle!

Netflix is on a roll lately. Out of 27 nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, the streaming service only won one Oscar, for Jane Campion’s direction of The Power of the Dog (which is great, BTW), but it’s seemingly never too early to start promoting a film for the next awards cycle. A couple of weeks ago, I received my first screener of 2022, which just happens to be the basketball movie, Hustle.

Adam Sandler is Stanley Sugerman, a traveling scout for the Philadelphia 76ers searching for fresh international talent to bring to the team. His original dreams of playing in the NBA were cut short after a drunk-driving incident in college, but he may yet coach in the league, should his employer sign the talented player. But egos are involved in the whole process, so nothing’s guaranteed.

Juancho Hernangómez’s Bo Cruz is the raw-but-talented player who’s had more success hustling ballers on Spain’s street courts than controlling his temper in exchange for a guaranteed multimillion-dollar contract. Can Sugerman and his crew get the right people to recognize the talents of the “Cruz Missile?”

“The kid is, like, if Scottie Pippen and a wolf had a baby. And Lisa Leslie raised him… And Allen Iverson was the babysitter.”

Everybody loves a redemption story and I especially love underdog tales. Paired with my life-long love of sports? I truly enjoyed watching Hustle.

While this is obviously a sports movie, the main drama lies within Sandler’s Sugerman and his employer. But the most fun is watching the training process, which is definitely unconventional, a la Rocky (another Philadelphia staple). As a player, Cruz is an investment. He’s a big man who can step back and shoot the three — which is all the rage these days in the NBA. Cruz has Top 10 talent, but he’s incredibly out of shape.

Training for professional sports drafts is a whole industry into itself these days. While this movie briefly touches upon certain aspects, the bigger topic I’m wondering: How is it remotely possible for an international player to come out of nowhere during the age of Twitter and YouTube? Somehow, it still happens, but it’s unlikely after all these years.

Many of the sport’s biggest names make appearances here, and it wouldn’t feel real or even enjoyable if they weren’t invited. Dr. J was a given with this team, along with some famous streetball performers, but when The Dan Patrick Show‘s McLovin (Andrew Perloff) has a line of dialogue, I totally geeked out as a fanboy of the radio show.

Hustle is a fun basketball movie, I’d put it up there near my favorites: White Men Can’t JumpBlue Chips and Hoosiers, but not above them. Those are classics and maybe with some time, Hustle will be considered the same. Sandler’s real love of the game is apparent here, even though the overall theme feels a little lightweight, comparatively.

Taking the reins from the NFL, basketball is a year-round sport these days, even in the NBA’s offseason. And since training camp is right around the corner, now’s a great time to get into the spirit, by watching Hustle. The classic real-life clips of our performers during the closing credits was chock-full of nostalgia. They’re just as fun reliving as seeing the current-day players appear in the film.