Sports comedy ‘Uncle Drew’ is far from slam dunk

James Preston Poole

When there isn’t enough material in books and comics left to adapt, where does Hollywood turn? Web series, apparently.

Yes, “Uncle Drew,” the new film from “Drumline” director Charles Stone III, is based off a web series of the same name promoting Pepsi Max. The series coasted by on a simple gimmick: notable basketball players in old-age makeup. In bite-sized episodes, this conceit gets a few chuckles, but in a feature film, the novelty quickly wears thin.

Lil Rel Howery stars as Dax, a down-on-his-luck streetball coach who spends the last of his money to enter his team in the Rucker Classic tournament. When he loses all of his team to his nemesis, Mookie (Nick Kroll), he finds an answer in elderly legend Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), who brings along a team of aging misfits to fill out the rest of the team, played, of course, by a multitude of basketball legends.

Howery tries his best with the character he’s given, mostly succeeding. His comedic timing is impeccable, and he has a penchant for eliciting empathy for someone who could’ve been thoroughly unlikable in another actor’s hands. In fact, he and most of the main cast are fairly likeable.

Irving is having the time of his life, relishing the opportunity to play a goofy, experienced baller, equally matched by his prosthetic-covered cohorts Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie. All of them are clearly trying so hard that it’s unfortunate everything else in the film fails them.

The first issue is the makeup. On most of the characters — particularly Robinson and Leslie — it looks fine, if a little unconvincing. However, for Uncle Drew himself, it’s a complete and total eyesore to look at. The makeup, with its exaggerated white hair and wrinkles that prohibit most facial movement, looks like something out of a high school play, and since the movie is centered around this character, that’s a huge issue.

The only thing more over-the-top than the makeup for Drew is the supporting performances from Tiffany Hadish, who plays Howery’s ex-girlfriend, and Kroll. These two are complete cartoon characters, coming from a different movie altogether, but at least they provide a break from the monotony of the script by Jay Longino.

“Uncle Drew” has no surprises. From the first five minutes of the film, it’s clear exactly how it’s going to end, following every tired sports movie trope. Even the film itself seems to know it’s predictable because it seems to speed through the third-act Rucker Classic showdown as quickly as possible.

Alas, this film’s biggest sin is that it’s simply not funny. Aside from some banter between Dax and Drew early on, as well as a genuinely hilarious baptism scene involving Webber’s Preacher, there are very few laughs to be had. Most of the dialogue seems to consist of meta references to the actors’ basketball careers that will go way over the head of anyone who isn’t familiar with them.

Despite these flaws, “Uncle Drew” may find an audience. It’s clearly passionate about basketball and those references that flew way over my head could click with others, yet at the end of the day, this is a subpar sports comedy that does the bare minimum and not much else.

For a film produced by Pepsi, there’s little refreshing here.

“Uncle Drew”

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Score: 2/5