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Uncle Drew – Movie Review

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Uncle Drew – Movie Review

Rating: D (Very Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Pepsi’s commercials featuring NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving are centered on the simple premise of an elderly basketball player being a master of the sport. The popularity of this campaign has led to a full length feature film, which is that one-joke concept stretched out to an unforgivable runtime. Uncle Drew has one joke that it overuses to the extreme, while also telling a thin story with every sports movie cliché in the book. There was an opportunity to make fun of those familiar tropes, but the film instead plays them straight. Despite the presence of genuinely funny people like Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish, the jokes frequently go for the obvious punch lines.

Uncle Drew follows the Blues Brothers template of getting the team back together, but doesn’t take a lot of creative directions with the concept. All of the jokes surrounding the basketball players relate to their age and little more. We’re supposed to laugh at these elderly gentlemen being phenomenally good athletes and the joke repeats itself through the entire film. It’s a waiting game for something funny to occur and it never happens. The characters fit into obvious archetypes and we know exactly what each of their arcs will entail. This is most obvious with Howery’s basketball coach Dax, who serves as the straight man. From the second his back story is introduced, it’s evident exactly what he will accomplish by the end of the film.

As much as the comedy doesn’t land, the actors do try their best and none of the central characters become annoying or bothersome. The weakest performance disappointingly belongs to Nick Kroll, who plays the villain. While the intention was definitely to be insufferable, the act quickly becomes irritating rather than funny. The lack of successful humour is aided by the off pacing. Despite its simple story, Uncle Drew drags. This worsens during the third act, when there are multiple basketball tournaments and the requisite dance-off competition. There are about twenty minutes which could have been snipped out of this film which, need I remind you, is based on television commercials.

One successful element in Uncle Drew comes from the makeup. The basketball players, along with a few other actors, look believably aged up. The actors also do well in depicting the proper posture. As much as they’re not given much funny material, it is clear how much they committed to their roles. Knowing the source material, it’s difficult to not escape the inherent commercialization, with frequent Pepsi logos and vending machines framed within the shots. Uncle Drew is even filmed like a commercial, too. However, without Pepsi’s advertising team, the character likely wouldn’t exist in the first place, so that’s the trade-off.

Uncle Drew largely suffers from what can happen when a character that previously existed in a short format has to sustain a feature film. While Kyrie Irving certainly has a lot of affection for his alter ego, there is a singular joke attached to him and we see that repeated over a flimsy story. Even when the movie attempts to inject some heart, they are the clichéd attempts at schmaltz that just don’t register, because there’s no emotional investment in these personalities. The familiar story wouldn’t be a problem, if Uncle Drew was funny. Sadly, it’s a stone-faced experience throughout.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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