The shock here is that the cast of Uncle Drew is not at all out of place (to see cringe-worthy acting, watch 15:17 to Paris) and make an enjoyable comedy. The laughs aren’t consistent or as big as you would hope, but offers enough for a mild recommendation.
When I first saw television spots for Uncle Drew, I would mutter to myself that this is a movie disaster waiting to happen. Taking a slew of untrained actors and having them star in a major motion picture is a risk that never really pays off in terms of quality. It is one thing to take a bunch of comedians, then dress them up and change their appearance in makeup (the Eddie Murphy classic Coming to America comes to mind. Yes, I called it a classic. Deal with it), but it’s a whole different ball game with untrained actors and novice comedic talents. To my surprise, Uncle Drew is funnier than expected; you just need basement-level expectations going in.
The comedy starts with Dax (Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery) who works at a foot locker and coaches a basketball team in a local community tourney called the Rucker Classic Street Ball Tournament in Harlem, NY. He pours his life’s savings into the team, so he can win the tournament and take home the prize money to appease his long-time girlfriend, Jess (the always scene-stealing Tiffany Haddish). Out of pure luck, Dax discovers the legendary street ball legend, Uncle Drew (NBA’s Kyrie Irving), who even over age 70 still breaks guy’s ankles a third his age on the court. Soon, Drew gets the band back together with a host of former teammates (played by various basketball legends), hops in a van, and proves this group of geriatrics is always ready to take their opponents to school.
Clearly inspired by stories of legendary New York City street ball players like Earl Manigault (see the HBO film starring Don Cheadle, Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault), Drew is smart about letting Lil Rel be the focus of the film and not letting any of the basketball stars carry too much of the weight. While Lil Rel may be too light-weight of a comic to star in any vehicle, some of the slack is picked up by Haddish and Nick Kroll, who plays a rival coach who steels Dax’s original team. The laughs are not there consistently, but have enough, if you allow yourself to be entertained in a low-brow kind of way.
The former basketball stars that fill out the rest of the cast included Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Lisa Leslie and Nate Robinson. None of these stars are trained actors (O’Neal’s Shazam does not qualify him to be considered a seasoned veteran thespian), but none of them feel out of place. Now, the heavy make-up does help, but the natural likability possessed by many of them comes through easily on screen, with Webber and Leslie’s dysfunctional marriage being the most entertaining subplot of the group. So, if you want to see cringe-worthy acting, go see Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 to Paris; it’s like watching someone scrape their nails against a green chalkboard for two hours. That never happens here, for the mere sake that it’s an absurd comedy.
Uncle Drew is a mildly enjoyable comedy, depending on the mood you are in, and going in with rock-bottom expectations helps. Director Charles Stone III comedy film isn’t going to be showered with awards, but it doesn’t try to be something it is not. Its main goal is it tries to make you laugh and, for the most part, it does, just not as consistently or big as you would hope. Uncle Drew still offers enough mindless escapism for a mild recommendation for a rental outside the movie theatre experience.