This sports film will delight basketball fans, but at heart, it's a tender relationship tale about two men and their journey to finally live up to their full potential.
Sugerman and Cruz also discover a father/son-like bond in Hustle, which is underscored in a moving scene in which Bo's mother advises him not to ignore the love and dedication that Sugerman has shown him -- and again in a symbolic tattoo that one character gets.
The film soars thanks to Sandler's star performance: He toggles seamlessly between drama and comedy (the latter thankfully understated here). As an actor, mature roles like this are where Sandler does his best work.
As a character, Sugerman has settled into middle age. "Guys in their fifties don't have dreams -- they have nightmares and eczema," he says, but he does still have a dream -- and Bo embodies it. Pro player Hernangomez is excellent as a talented ingénue with both a temper and a heart of gold.
There are so many cameos by current and veteran players in this film that you have to wonder how much hustling Sandler and his co-producers (including LeBron James) had to do themselves to round up the star-studded crew.
Philly fans, affectionately mocked as "the best because they're the worst," will love this tribute (much has already been made about a local donut shirt that Sandler sports).
The film rests on its performances (Queen Latifah is a great choice as Sugerman's wife) and story, with the anticipated highs and lows of any good sports movie.
There are occasionally perplexing jolts of the camera, Cruz's English goes from basic to fluent in a heartbeat, and Foster's villain is a little over the top, but that's all nitpicking in a movie with this much well-timed humor and genuine heart.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.
Images courtesy of Netflix.