By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — NBA fans will likely appreciate the mostly harmless sports comedy “Uncle Drew” (Summit). Viewers without a passion for the game and its attendant culture may be less indulgent.
Based on a Pepsi ad campaign featuring the title character, the film centers on hapless basketball coach Dax (Lil Rel Howery). With the prestigious Rucker Classic street ball tournament looming, Dax’s players desert him in favor of his longtime — and obnoxious — rival, Mookie (Nick Kroll).
Desperate to win the competition’s large purse, Dax turns for help to Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), an elderly and elusive legend from the Harlem hoops scene of the 1960s. Together the two hit the road to recruit the various members of the cantankerous old man’s former team: Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller) and Boots (Nate Robinson).
Director Charles Stone III blends court heroics with riffs on everything from Dax’s physique and the easily aroused temper of henpecked Preacher’s tough spouse, Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie), to the quirks of the aged. He even throws in a spontaneous dance competition. But the sum of his ingredients is not overly satisfying, especially given the hard-to-swallow premise pitting geriatrics against more typically youthful players.
Teamwork and self-confidence are celebrated in Jay Longino’s script which also offsets the fun it pokes at Pentecostal exuberance with brief affirmations of Christian faith. In one scene, for instance, receiving the gift of a gold cross to wear around his neck, Preacher, a real minister, reverently kisses it.
Similarly, Dax’s initial relationship with sassy live-in girlfriend Jess (Tiffany Haddish) gives way to a much more restrained bond with Boots’ granddaughter, Maya (Erica Ash). Things get a bit more wayward in outtakes accompanying the closing credits, with one showing a female character jokingly taking a whip to the underwear-clad backside of a male cast member.
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. But it’s also an indication that this is not a good choice for the whole family, especially as it’s both preceded and followed by a similarly swift sight gag involving a hospital gown that fails to cover a patient’s rear end.
Grown moviegoers will find that such moments are compensated for by the good-hearted tone of the proceedings as a whole. While generally genial, however, “Uncle Drew” is no more than a passable bit of entertainment.
The film contains a glimpse of aberrant bedroom behavior played for laughs, fleeting male rear nudity, cohabitation, references to promiscuity and premarital relationships, some sexual and mildly irreverent humor, at least one use each of profanity and crude language, numerous milder oaths, a bleeped F-word and several crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.