Am I a basketball fan? No. Am I aware of the Uncle Drew commercials? No. Can someone who isn’t a basketball fan, and isn’t aware of the Uncle Drew commercials appreciate this film? Probably not.
Uncle Drew is exactly the formulaic sports-comedy film that you’d expect it to be. Basketball coach/FootLocker sales assistant Dax (Lil Rel Howery) pours his life-savings into a Harlem-based basketball team for the chance to win a local tournament, only to see his star player Casper (Aaron Gordon) and other key players abandon him, and to play for Mookie’s (Nick Kroll) team, Dax’s arch nemesis. Now Dax is without a team, is without a home after being dumped by his shallow girlfriend Jess (Tiffany Haddish), and he has no hope of winning the prize money. Dax must, therefore, seek out a saviour. Dax stumbles upon the legendary Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), whom he convinces to reunite Drew’s old gang back. The two then embark on a road trip to gather them the troops.
Basketball fans will rejoice to see such icons as Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal flex their comedy and acting chops. Athletes that turn to the world of acting seldom works (Shaq 90s movies – eesh!) but these guys are proof that there are exceptions. Even under such heavy prosthetics (the mid-credits showcases how much went into making players look like retired baby-boomers!), they shine throne. They take their geriatric caricatures and push the silliness to the nth degree and cliche, i.e. the exaggerated hunched over posture, the absurd limping, and the farcical hoarse voices. Moreover, the chemistry and the comic-timing between the players is what helps the film. They prove that even athletes can make something out of a script that offers them very little.
In fact, all of the actors give satisfactory performances; none are challenging nor subvert audience expectations. Lil Rel Howery portrays Dax as a nice but selfish protagonist who will eventually learn his lesson. Erica Ash portrays Maya as the female lead whose role is to support to the male characters. She will inevitably fall for Dax because the laws of cinema dictate that a lead female and a lead male must get together at some point. And Nick Kroll gives another one of his trademark ‘King of Douchebaggery’ performances. In short, the actors perform precisely how you’d expect them to.
Uncle Drew is a safe film because this is a Pepsi Production. It would stand to reason why the film takes no comedic or narrative risks. Uncle Drew, as a character, is a Pepsi product. The narrative plays to audience expectation and ensures that every demographic that this film appeals to, which are mostly basketball fans, is satisfied and unchallenged. Therefore, what does one expect from a movie derived from Pepsi commercials?
The film’s unconvincing romance, the audience-insulting moral message about going for your dreams, and the brain-draining goofball antics (Shaq’s arse makes an on-screen appearance because bodyparts = comedy) will make you either cringe or force you to switch off your brain. The actors do their best with the script, but the film is a hollow, cynical, big budget Pepsi commercial.