The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Uncle Drew

Uncle Drew is not the first movie to be based on a TV commercial. Those Jim Varney ads for Green's Ice Cream inspired the Ernest series a couple decades ago. Still, there's no denying that a Pepsi ad is bizarre source material for a major motion picture. You'd have every reason to be skeptical about its quality level. The surprise, then, is that Uncle Drew is an amiable, good-natured film that delivers little of substance other than a pleasant “forget about the outside world” experience for 103 minutes. Sometimes that's good enough.

Basketball star Kyrie Irving plays Uncle Drew, an aging hoops legend lured out of retirement by a financially-struggling streetball coach named Dax (Get Out's Lil Rel Howery). Dax has a gold-digging girlfriend, Jess (Tiffany Haddish), and a mountain of debt. Uncle Drew agrees to enter a streetball competition, under Dax's coaching, provided he can pick the players. His choices are just like him – old and long out of the game. They include the minister known as Preacher (Chris Webber), the retirement home resident Lights (Reggie Miller), the legally blind Boots (Nate Robinson), and martial arts instructor Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal). Despite their advancing age, the guys still have a little spring in their steps when they set foot on a court. But will it be enough to help Dax defeat his longtime rival, Mookie (Nick Kroll)?

Uncle Drew utilizes the familiar “let's get the old gang back together” plot. Much of the movie consists of Dax and Uncle Drew driving from town to town, recruiting the team members, and it ends with the proverbial Big Game. This is one of those movies where every plot point is telegraphed way in advance, so you know exactly what's going to happen long before it gets there. For example, we're told early on that Dax stopped playing basketball after losing his confidence when Mookie blocked his shot and humiliated him during a game they played as children. Do you think they'll end up facing each other at the end?

The pleasure is in the performances. Despite not technically being actors, NBA stars Irving, Webber, Robinson, and O'Neal are all exceptionally good as their characters. No, the old age makeup isn't remotely convincing, but that's part of the appeal. (Kind of like how Tyler Perry not really passing as an old woman when he plays Madea is part of the joke.) Nevertheless, each creates a fun comic persona. Webber particularly steals the show, displaying impressive comedic chops as Preacher, who brings as much fire and brimstone to his basketball playing as he does to his sermons. You feel a camaraderie between the characters, which maintains your interest despite the plot being formulaic. The stars are clearly having a great time portraying old men who can still dunk – a quality that proves infectious.

Howery, Kroll, and Haddish also do fine work, with the Girls Trip star in particular providing a real jolt of energy. Scenes on the court are skillfully staged by director Charles Stone III (Drumline). There are even a bunch of NBA-related in-jokes scattered throughout, although how many of them you get will depend on how well you know the sport.

Uncle Drew doesn't necessary have a ton of big laughs. I did chuckle at it a lot, and I smiled most of the way through. There's a sweet message about how being old doesn't necessarily rob you of your value. Sure, the movie is lightweight as can be. It makes you feel good when you walk out, though. If you want a nice distraction from whatever is currently stressing you out in life, this isn't a bad way to go.

( out of four)

Uncle Drew is rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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