[Screen It]


(2018) (Lil Rel Howery, Kyrie Irving) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A down on his luck streetball coach hopes that a group of former players, now septuagenarians, can come together and win again as a team and help him defeat his longtime rival.
Dax Winslow (LIL REL HOWERY) is a late thirty-something man who works in a sneaker store but hopes to make it big as the coach of a Harlem streetball team. That's not only to support his materialistic girlfriend, Jess (TIFFANY HADDISH), with the $100,000 payday for the winner of the 50th anniversary of the Rucker Classic, but also to get revenge on his longtime nemesis, Mookie (NICK KROLL), who blocked Dax's game-winning shot so many years ago back in school and still won't let him forget about that. Dax thinks he has what he needs in superstar basketball player Casper (AARON GORDON), but it's not long before Mookie steals him away and Jess then kicks him out of her apartment.

Things look up when Dax witnesses septuagenarian Uncle Drew (KYRIE IRVING) show up some young basketball studs on the court. Once a rising star, Uncle Drew mysteriously disappeared from the game back in 1968 but is still talked about all these decades later. Promising that he'll be able to show the youngsters how to really play, Dax convinces Uncle Drew to join his team, but only with the caveat that the old man will be able to select his teammates.

They, of course, are the ones he formerly played with way back when and include the towering Preacher (CHRIS WEBBER) whose wife, Betty Lou (LISA LESLIE), is less than pleased he's going to take time off from the church to play some ball. There's also Lights (REGGIE MILLER) who's legally blind and Boots (NATE ROBINSON) who hasn't walked in years, something his granddaughter, Maya (ERICA ASH), points out to Dax. But the player they most want is Big Fella (SHAQUILLE O'NEAL), a huge man who now teaches martial arts to kids and hasn't spoken to Dax for decades after a very personal falling out they had back in the '60s.

After getting them all together, Dax hopes they can still play and just maybe defeat Mookie and the team he's coaching in the Rucker Classic.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a kid growing up in the 1960s and '70s, I easily recall channel surfing (meaning physically turning a knob by hand through our four local TV channels) and coming across an "old" dude in a jumpsuit doing squats and such on a very primitive looking exercise show. It wasn't until later that I learned all about Jack LaLanne and always ended up amazed by his various seemingly impossible for his age physical feats that he pulled off once in his seventies and beyond.

Despite that and a growing number of older athletes continuing to do their thing even if supposedly being well past their prime, I'll admit I still suffer from bouts of ageism where I think people are too old to be playing certain sports. For instance, when I hear that Tom Brady is coming back yet again to play quarterback for the New England Patriots, I resort to my pre-teen mentality of thinking he's way too old for such nonsense. And then I remember I was in eighth grade when he was born.

Such ageism is part of the point of "Uncle Drew" a goofy sports comedy where a bunch of septuagenarians reunite after fifty years to take on much younger players on the basketball court for some streetball action. On the surface, the film would appear to be a sports variation of the old "Blues Brothers" plot -- where some middle-aged guys travel around the country to put together their old band "on a mission from God" -- minus all of the terrific music.

In reality, the film is actually based on a Pepsi TV ad that was spawned from a popular, several minute web short where NBA star Kyrie Irving put on old man makeup and then schooled the ageist youngsters on the court. I never saw either version -- which presumably were inspired by others such as Johnny Knoxville doing the young-old man bit -- but fully realize taking any short clip and trying to turn it into a feature-length film is risky business (see nearly any movie based on some "Saturday Night Live" skit for proof of that).

Undeterred by the cinematic train wreck littering that's occurred over the years, writer Jay Longino and director Charles Stone III have headed down the court in hopes of creating a slam dunk comedy. While it's not entirely an airball, it misses far more often than it scores during its overlong 103 or so minute runtime.

Irving reprises his titular character who, we learn during the opening moments, was the hottest ball player around in the late '60s until he slept with a teammate's girlfriend the night before the finals of the Rucker Classic. He then disappeared into folklore and legend, none of which streetball coach Dax (Lil Rel Howery) believes until he happens across the septuagenarian schooling some younger players on a Harlem basketball court.

Needing money and a way to defeat his childhood basketball rival (Nick Kroll) who blocked his final shot at the end of a championship game years ago and has recently stolen both his prized player (Aaron Gordon) and girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish) away from him, Dax convinces Uncle Drew to join his team. The old man agrees, but only if he can choose the players and thus begins the "Blues Brothers" part of the plot where they imitate Jake and Elwood and drive around the country to recruit the old teammates (all played by real-life, current and former pro players).

They include a towering pastor (Chris Webber) whose wife (Lisa Leslie) isn't thrilled with this development (much like Aretha Franklin's character in the "BB" film); a legally blind man (Reggie Miller), a wheelchair-bound man (Nate Robinson) and a martial arts instructor (Shaquille O'Neal) who still hasn't forgiven the title character for his bedroom indiscretion all of those years ago with his girl.

What follows is a road trip meets sports comedy with as many friendly put-downs as dunks and the old players finally shaking off the cobwebs and knocking off the rust to show the youngsters how it's done. There's obviously some potential in all of that, and at times some of the material and bits work. But most of the script feels scattershot and amateurish at best (including lots of jabs about the protagonist's shortness that feel straight out of a Kevin Hart movie) and there are few surprises to go along with the to-be-expected life lessons and heart-warming moments.

I suppose it would have been too much to ask real seventy-plus-year-old players to go all Jack LaLanne and get out there on the court (the oldest of the players is Miller at 52) for the film. But if you have a hankering for a faux version of that and a handful of not terribly inspired laughs as related to such a notion, you might find parts or maybe all of "Uncle Drew" to your liking. I'm in the "parts" section of the stands and thus give the film just four basketballs out of ten.

Reviewed June 26, 2018 / Posted June 29, 2018

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