‘Uncle Drew’ nails sports comedy genre, misses shot in developing characters

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

If you’ve ever wondered what Shaquille O’Neal’s bare ass looks like, quench your curiosity with the new summer film “Uncle Drew,” starring NBA legend Kyrie Irving.

“Uncle Drew,” directed by Charles Stone III, brings basketball MVPs Irving and O’Neal to the silver screen alongside Lil Rel Howery, Nick Kroll and Tiffany Haddish. Originally a digital series by Pepsi in 2012, the story follows a team of fictional senior basketball retirees coming together once again after years of following their own paths off the court.

Uncle Drew (Irving), a legend of the street ball scene, helps Dax (Howery) form a team of old misfits to compete in a local basketball tournament after Dax is robbed of his team by a childhood rival (Kroll). Irving and O’Neal dress in full elderly get-ups for their roles, sporting prosthetic wrinkles and gray hair.

“Uncle Drew” provides a slapstick blend of absurdity and action for viewers of all levels of sports knowledge. For a movie about a geriatric basketball team, the storyline moves unexpectedly fast, and not because viewers are hit with constantly flowing action. Many details about the storyline and the characters’ backgrounds are lost along the team’s journey. Things such as the relationships between the characters and the rules of their street basketball league are fuzzy and underexplained.

The surface-level view of the characters detracts heavily from the movie’s quality. Each member of the team of old friends has an intriguing personality, and the film could have played into this much deeper than it does. The story currently falls flat on sentimentality, especially in the connections among the characters. If the exploration of characters such as Uncle Drew and the other team members had been deeper, the scenes highlighting the team’s bond would have benefited from the heartfelt impact of more personal character relationships.

Haddish’s Jess is one of the more disappointing characters — viewers watch the exact same role Haddish played in last year’s “Girls Trip.” All of the women, in fact, are given the personality of the “loud Black woman,” a trope exhausted in Hollywood. Even though cheesy comedies are usually breeding grounds for overdone stereotypes, more multidimensional characters would have allowed the film to push past the limits of the genre.

While the boys of the basketball team may be the center of the storyline, this is not just a movie for sports fanatics. The game scenes and sports lingo are peppered with jokes and scenarios still entertaining for watchers who are not sports-inclined. Pop culture references such as NBA star Dikembe Mutombo’s finger wag can be appreciated by anyone who has spent any time on the internet.

Internet hype for the soundtrack, however, was underwhelming, even though A$AP Ferg, Logic, Khalid, Wiz Khalifa and more feature on it. Irving even drops his own bars on the track “Ridiculous,” featuring LunchMoney Lewis. This track list perfectly blends the ‘70s hip-hop vibes the Harlem-set film aims for with a newer wave of rap sound, even featuring Logic’s 2013 track “Ballin.” The energy of some moments may be lacking — purposefully so, as the elderly team struggles even against a team of elementary school girls — but the music adds a youthful spirit and a humorous contrast in liveliness.

Of course, you can’t have a great soundtrack and a grade-A cheesy movie without somehow including a dance battle. Irving, O’Neal and the rest of the motley crew express their unity in the way every reunion comedy chooses to — by busting out scarily synchronized and well-choreographed dance moves.

While in a club battling to prove their hipness against a team of young people (who somehow also have an expertly arranged dance sequence at the ready), the team sets up one of the more fun and ridiculous parts of the movie. This may not be an Academy Award-worthy scene, but it’s definitely one of the most entertaining parts of the film.

Ultimately, what “Uncle Drew” lacks in character development, it makes up for with poppin’ tunes and buzzer-beating comedy. It may not be NBA quality, but it fits the messy, carefree love of street basketball.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.