By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Five Beers) –
Dax (Lil Rel Howery) is the coach of an amateur basketball team in Harlem, training for the “Rucker Classic” tournament, which he hopes winning will change his life. But just after Dax spent hundreds of dollars he didn’t have to buy his team fancy sneakers, rival coach Mookie (Nick Kroll) poaches the entire team away. Dax is broke, teamless, and single (his gold digging girlfriend leaves him). One day, Dax runs into the legendary “Uncle Drew” (Kyrie Irving), a septuagenarian basketball player who still has mad skills.
And the least convincing age makeup work since Guy Pierce in Prometheus…
Dax wastes no time in recruiting Uncle Drew to his cause. With the Rucker Classic just a few days away, the two embark on a road trip to recruit a new team. Uncle Drew insists on bringing in his old teammates. And all of his teammates are also famous basketball stars in aging makeup (Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Chris Webber).
Being fair, while I definitely did not find Uncle Drew funny, I did find it mildly compelling. Not because it was well-written, or solidly acted (it wasn’t), but rather because of how vaingloriously the film strides through set-piece after set-piece while avoiding laughs at every turn. In a sense, I found Uncle Drew interesting because of how much effort it must have been to make it so banal. As a result, I was less “bored” as I was nonplussed.
Uncle Drew opens with a mock ESPN 30 for 30 documentary where Uncle Drew’s Backstory is told… without so much as attempting a joke. Such a transgression could easily be overcome if the movie brought the funny, but they seem to miss the mark at every turn. This isn’t a case of them writing a lot of bad jokes (a la Friedberg & Selzer) but rather that of not writing enough jokes…
The much of the dialogue felt like improvisation, and most of it fell flat, perhaps because the bulk of the cast are non-actors. Improv comedy is hard enough to get right with seasoned professionals, because timing is everything. While there is no doubt that Kyrie Irving has excellent timing while dribbling on the court, he’s got a lot of work to do with line reading.
This is the Lil Rel show, not the Uncle Drew show, and yelling loudly in expression of dismay isn’t a substitute for comedy. I don’t judge Lil Rel’s performance as bad, just the way his character is written. This is one of those comedies where the down on his luck lead character gets shit on by everyone around him, and as the substitute for development, they trade a last second epiphany. If there is anything positive I can say about Lil Rel in this film… at least he wasn’t hamming it up like Nick Kroll.
You can do so much better, Nick.
There is a rushed feeling in every scene, as if they had only a few chances to get the take done. If I heard tomorrow that they went into the shoot with no script and just made it up as they went along, I wouldn’t be surprised. Dialogue is stumbled through in awkward fashion, often skipping over opportunities for comedy in the name of false sentimentality. Maybe the film was a blast to shoot, but I got a sensation of depression from some of the performances.
Not the face of artistic satisfaction…
Uncle Drew isn’t exactly unwatchable, but there is something compelling about watching actors try desperately to get a laugh, and failing every time…
Uncle Drew (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Uncle Drew says “youngblood”
Take a Drink: for product placement
Do a Shot: when the product placement is in the dialogue
Double Shot: for Pepsi products
Do a Shot: any time Nick Kroll is on screen…. what the heck was he thinking?