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  • Ben Pivoz

Uncle Drew

Updated: Feb 6


Dax (Lil Rel Howery) tries to recruit Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) to join his basketball team in Uncle Drew (Distributed by Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment)

We have had movies based on tv shows, books, videogames, theme park rides and emojis. I guess it was only a matter of time before we got one adapted from a series of Pepsi commercials. Uncle Drew (95 minutes plus outtakes) is a comedy spun-off of an ad campaign featuring NBA star Kyrie Irving, wearing old age makeup, schooling unsuspecting players on the basketball court.

In his big screen debut, Uncle Drew goes on a road trip to recruit his former teammates, all septuagenarians, to reunite for a tournament at Rucker Park. The resulting film is not nearly as terrible as I was expecting when I first heard about it. The story is decent (if extremely derivative and a little slow moving) and the cast, many of whom are current or former basketball players, seem to be having a ton of fun in their roles. However, the movie is not very funny. The bulk of the jokes are obvious and the screenplay feels the need to underline almost every single one just in case viewers fail to realize they are supposed to be laughing. It is not bad, but it is not particularly good either.

The actual star is Lil Rel Howery as Dax, a man who gave up on his hoop dreams after having a championship game winning shot blocked. As the story begins, he is a coach preparing for the Rucker tournament when the same guy who ruined his life as a kid, now an opposing coach, steals his team. Then, his girlfriend kicks him out of their apartment. Broke, homeless and without a team, Dax stumbles across the legendary Uncle Drew. The two set off in Drew’s van to get the band back together for a shot at Rucker glory.

Drew, Lights (Reggie Miller), Boots (Nate Robinson), Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal), Dax, Preacher (Chris Webber), Maya (Erica Ash) and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie)

It was probably a wise idea to make Irving’s Uncle Drew the second lead so the athletes did not have to carry the dramatic load. They are all playing broad caricatures anyway, this way they only have to hit the jokes. Drew’s ex-teammates are played by Chris Webber (as a preacher), Reggie Miller (the blind Lights), Nate Robinson (the wheelchair bound Boots) and Shaquille O’Neal (as a karate instructor known as Big Fella). Their performances are totally fine, especially Irving who is surprisingly capable in the more serious moments. They get to play actual characters instead of just versions of themselves. The characters are pretty thin, but at least they get to stretch a little.

The filmmakers made the smart choice to surround them with talented, funny actors. There is Howery, who is likable in the lead, Tiffany Haddish, all energy as his ex-girlfriend and Nick Kroll as Dax’s archrival. Those three get most of the good lines. But the screenplay has trouble staying focused and tends to lose people in the ensemble. For much of the middle part of the movie, Dax is traveling with the five oldsters as well as Boots’ granddaughter, Maya (Erica Ash). Unfortunately for Ash, she is given absolutely nothing to do the vast majority of the time. It is so pointless that her ultimate role in the story becomes obvious long before Uncle Drew gets there in its narrative.

Overall, Uncle Drew is an inoffensive, feel good comedy that just did not make me laugh very much. It is fun seeing the basketball players goof around and there are a lot of funny people in the cast, but the screenplay is so slight it practically disappears as you are watching it. Though the movie ends up being a forgettable miss, it is likely the best film ever made based on a series of commercials. So at least it has that going for it.


2 out of 5

Cast:

Lil Rel Howery as Dax

Kyrie Irving as Uncle Drew

Shaquille O’Neal as Big Fella

Chris Webber as Preacher

Reggie Miller as Lights

Nate Robinson as Boots

Lisa Leslie as Betty Lou

Erica Ash as Maya

Nick Kroll as Mookie

Tiffany Haddish as Jess

Aaron Gordon as Casper

Written by Jay Longino

Directed by Charles Stone III

#Adaptation #LilRelHowery #TiffanyHaddish #Comedy