‘Uncle Drew’ – geriatric legends relive glory days in hoops comedy

Uncle Drew
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Films

Uncle Drew is a humourous hoops flick that pays tribute to Harlem’s historic Rucker Tournament, and acrobatic athletes who have mesmerized generations of adoring fans attending the annual summer classic.

Rucker Park is home to the popular basketball tournament staged since 1950 on an outdoor court on 155th Street. Many promising prospects have honed their skills on the world-famous proving grounds en route to enviable NBA careers: Kevin Durant, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, to name a few.

Sadly, some Rucker standouts seemingly bound for glory have failed to even make it to the pro ranks, including such self-destructive streetball legends as Pee Wee Kirkland and Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Upon retiring, Jabbar referred to “The Goat” as in the greatest player he’d ever competed against.

Directed by Charles Stone III (Drumline), the film stars Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, who actually honed his skills at Rucker, as the film’s title character, but don’t expect to be able to recognize him under all the gobs of plastic makeup turning him into a senior citizen.

The same can be said of a host of other basketball greats who transform into geriatric legends for the flick. Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie all transition into old-timers, too, a la Larry Johnson’s alter ego Grandmama of another era.

Rounding out the principal cast are the Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon and a half-dozen of the funniest comedians around: Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Mike Epps, Nick Kroll, Lil Rel Howery and Erica Ash. Oh, and the film features a profusion of cameos appearances by George “Iceman” Gervin, Jerry West, Dikembe Mutombo, Bill Walton, David Robinson, Steve Nash, Rick Barry, Chris Mullin and more.

(l-r): Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), Lights (Reggie Miller), Boots (Nate Robinson), Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), Dax (Lil Rel Howery), Preacher (Chris Webber), Maya (Erica Ash), and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie) in Uncle DrewPhoto courtesy of Lionsgate Films

Just past the point of departure, we find Dax (Howery) fielding a team to enter in the upcoming Rucker tournament. But when the hapless manager loses not only his best players but also his girlfriend (Haddish) to the perennial winning coach (Kroll), he prevails upon geriatric Drew for help.

Drew, in turn, embarks on a cross-country road trip, coaxing his long-lost buddies out of retirement for one last hurrah on the court at Rucker. This ain’t easy, for a variety of reasons.

Big Fella (Shaq) is now the sensei of a thriving karate school. Lights (Miller) is legally blind. Boots (Robinson) is wheelchair-bound. And Preacher (Webber) has a bat-wielding, disapproving wife (Leslie), plus a church congregation he’ll have to abandon to make the trek.

Of course, upon arriving at Rucker, the reunited geezers are practically laughed off the court — at least until they show they still got game. But, can the cagey old codgers prevail in the championship match against the youngbloods coached by Dax’s trash-talking nemesis? As a delightful family comedy, Uncle Drew is guaranteed to keep you in stitches all the way to the satisfying, if not exactly surprising, finale.

Uncle Drew opened nationally June 29 to a weekend gross of $15.5 million. Check local listings for show times.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity, suggestive material and brief nudity

Running time: 103 minutes

Production Studios: Creators League Studio / Temple Hill Entertainment /Summit Entertainment / Pepsi Productions

Distributor: Lionsgate Films