Review: Real Bball Stars Make ‘Hustle’ a Win

A cast of NBA players, and a star turn by basketball-obsessed Adam Sandler, make this a movie sports fans shouldn’t miss.

The+movie+poster+for+Hustle

Courtesy of Netflix

The movie poster for “Hustle”

Ben Smith, Digital Editor

When I first saw the movie “Hustle” at the top of my Netflix recommended page, I thought it might be a mediocre cash-grab using a star-studded cast to fill a porous plot. But I committed my evening to give it a chance anyway. And it really surprised me.

“Hustle” begins by following Stanley Sugarman (Adam Sandler), an international scout for the Philadelphia 76ers National Basketball Association franchise. Sugarman is an NBA prospect who had his career cut short, and is interested in coaching. 

During a scouting trip in Spain he ends up leaving a professional game early. While looking for a court to shoot on, Sugarman stumbles on a pickup game and spots Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez).

As Sugarman watches, Cruz wins multiple pickup games in a row. Sugarman sees his potential. He follows Cruz home and convinces him to go to the US to pursue basketball.

From this point on, the movie follows Cruz, and his effort to make the NBA.

There are a few standout performances in “Hustle.” Adam Sandler does an incredible job playing Sugarman. Sandler is a huge basketball head in real life, and this intense interest bleeds onto the big screen. His intensity throughout the movie kept me engaged, and I can’t imagine another actor who could fill the role better.

The most surprising performance was by Anthony Edwards. Edwards, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves in real life, is Kermit Wilts in “Hustle.” Wilts, the movie’s antagonist, is a top NBA prospect and known trash-talker.

Throughout the movie, Wilts plays ball with the swagger and temper of a top young prospect. Edwards plays the role of this arrogant pest almost too well. It makes me a little more hesitant to root for him in the NBA.

One issue with “Hustle” is a small hole in the plot, a little over an hour into the movie. Things have fallen out with the NBA draft combine, so Sugarman resorts to using social media to gain entry into the league.

He creates the “Boa Challenge,” a stunt in which Bo plays pickup at the park, giving out money to anybody who can beat him. This section includes clips from major TV networks, supposedly in an uproar over the Boa Challenge.

This seems like a disconnect between the older screenwriters and the younger generation of viewers. In the current social media landscape, I never see things like hashtags used the way they are in “Hustle.” Although this movie was released in 2022, the Boa Challenge feels more appropriate to a movie set in 2012. But the most unbelievable part of this is the idea that the Boa Challenge would put Cruz back into the combine. In my opinion, the NBA would never do something like this in real life.

One area where “Hustle” really shines is its production. The basketball-playing scenes feel very immersive, with plenty of close angles and quick cuts. The audio doesn’t slack either, with every swish of the net getting sweeter to the ears. When Cruz gets locked in, the audio starts to drown out and the cameras start to focus. It makes these scenes even more intense and real.

Another great feature of “Hustle” are the numerous NBA cameos. As a fan of the league, it feels like a superstar appears every few minutes. Current players include Trae Young and Tobias Harris. Hall of Famer Julius Erving and Future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki also make appearances. Even some of the fictional international players Sugarman scouts are played by current NBA players like Boban Marjanović and Mo Wagner.

The decision to use real players portraying fictional characters in the movie creates an interesting effect. Because of it, “Hustle” feels just real enough to keep a fan engaged, but not like a documentary.

This, along with a relatively strong plot and great production, creates a film that any NBA fan can enjoy and appreciate. In the end, I really liked the movie, and would recommend it to anybody interested in the NBA or Basketball.