Don’t you hate it when you go into a movie thinking it’s going to be fun and it’s not? That seems to be happening a lot lately, and it has again with Uncle Drew.
About the film
The premise of Uncle Drew – old timers show young whippersnappers how to play basketball the right way – stems from a Pepsi commercial. It’s a short that got stretched in to a movie-length tale.
Uncle Drew is not the first film ever to be patterned after something shorter.
A slew of Saturday Night Live characters have seen sketches stretched from five minutes on TV to 90-minute movies. After an initial burst of success, the SNL movies faded fast.
The first offering was The Blues Brothers (1980); it’s still beloved and with the second SNL movie 12 years later, Wayne’s World (1992), they remain the gold standard. With such dynamic successes right off the bat, it made sense to begin spinning off characters.
In 1993, Coneheads (Movie Man No. 9 [!], 7, and he liked it more than most) arrived. It did not approach the big money made by The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World. (Still, Coneheads is worth watching if you come upon it on cable late at night; it’s funny.)
The skit-to-movies trouble really began with Wayne’s World 2 (1993) which made a whopping $73.5 million less than the original which was a ton of money back then.
In the summer of 1994, It’s Pat reached theaters. Today, it still remains the most reviled of the SNL efforts. Pat barely made it into auditoriums and collected a meager $60,822. It’s almost a cult movie today – so bad it’s good.
Another colossal dud followed in 1995, Stuart Saves His Family. Based on a sketch created by Al Franken, the film was directed by a guy with a history of success, Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters), but Stuart crashed and burned. It, too, did not even make a million dollars. Unlike Pat, Stuart is completely forgotten.
Three years passed and, in what likely seemed like a good idea at the time, a second Blues Brothers movie was made. Without John Belushi, fans stayed away from Blues Brothers 2000 (1998, MM #219, 4), and it made back just half of its budget at $14 million.
A Night at the Roxbury (1998) enjoyed a profit at $30.6 million, and the movie, starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan, has its devotees and contains some good chuckles.
The other SNL effort to “succeed” was Molly Shannon’s high school nerd in Superstar. It took in $30.6 million on a $14 million budget.
Probably the best SNL skit-movie to fail that was pretty good was The Ladies Man (2000). It made about half of its $24 million budget, but it, too, has some funny bits.
The latest SNL effort – and it’s been a while, 2010 – was Macgruber. The skit was fun for a few minutes on TV, but the movie was critically and publicly avoided, not even making its $10 million budget back.
Uncle Drew, while having no SNL ties, took on the mantel of expanding a basic premise, and it is seeing some business. It’s just not that great.
Dax (Lil Rel Howery) is a coach putting together a team to play in the annual Rucker Classic street basketball tournament. He’s got a stud in Casper (Aaron Gordon) but sees him stolen by archrival coach Mookie (Nick Kroll).
Long ago, Kroll embarrassed Howery in a high school game, and it haunts Howery constantly since Kroll never lets him forget it.
Desperate, Howery recruits a blacktop legend, Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving). Old and seemingly slow-moving, Irving impresses when he schools a young punk on the playground.
Howery convinces Irving to assemble his former Rucker-winning team from long ago, and they visit various places to do so.
Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller), Boots (Nate Robinson), and Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal) are collected – but there’s an issue with each one. Especially O’Neal who has a long-standing grudge against Irving.
Back on the court, the old timers began to work through the bracket and reach the finals against Kroll’s team where stud Gordon has been wearing players out – until they meet Uncle Drew and his gang.
But an injury forces it all to come down to another on-court matchup between the coaches Howery and Kroll.
Howery has his moments; he’s like Kevin Hart lite.
And cocky white boy Kroll is funny.
There’s plenty of wisdom that comes from Irving whose Uncle Drew has seen it all. He talks about teamwork and respecting the game – things today’s audiences might not have heard as often as they should.
The opening sequence is witty and funny, using real NBA stars to laud the greatness of the young Uncle Drew.
It’s really the one from the commercial. A punk talking smack to Uncle Drew on the playground learns a hard lesson when the old man takes out the buff hot dog.
What doesn’t work
If ever a movie was set up for some great laughs, it’s this one, but they hardly ever come. The effort is there, but the lines are wincingly poor too often.
The movie drags with boring subplots not helping.
Middling stars are sprinkled throughout – JB Smoove, Mike Epps, and Flavor of the Month Tiffany Haddish – but they are annoying.
This is a mild PG-13 with some language and an O’Neal booty shot.
There’s nothing really wrong with Uncle Drew: It delivers a good lesson and isn’t terribly vulgar. But it’s also not very funny and does not reach its potential.
Ant-Man and the Wasp.