What critics are saying about ‘Uncle Drew’

Read what the reviews (good and bad) say about Kyrie Irving's first feature film.

Kyrie Irving in "Uncle Drew." –Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

In an interview with Boston.com, Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving said that his approach to becoming a “certified actor” for his role in “Uncle Drew” was similar to his approach to preparing for a basketball game.

“It’s all part of a strive for perfection,” Irving said. “It’s working on a craft that you feel passionate about.”

But even Irving would tell you that hours of hard work and practice don’t necessarily guarantee results on the court — or at the box office. So how will Irving’s fastidious preparation for his first feature film, which hits theaters Thursday evening, pay off?

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Right now, it’s hard to tell. Deadline projects the film’s opening weekend box office will be approximately $11-15 million, which would be an acceptable, if not spectacular, return if the film’s reported $17-19 million budget is accurate.

Similarly, at the time of this article’s publication, “Uncle Drew” had a passable but not outstanding 59 percent Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating, just one percentage point away from being considered “fresh.”

That said, a single number can’t adequately capture the range of critical response, and many of the reviews coded as “fresh” or “rotten” by the critical aggregation site have a bit more nuance. To help you judge whether to rush to theaters, here’s what some of the top film critics are saying, both good and bad, about “Uncle Drew.”

The Good

Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips said that the film exceeded his expectations, which he admitted were somewhat low, and that the movie was a welcome relief from the sameness of other recent Disney blockbuster fare.

Somehow, as corny and predictable as it is, and even with a tsunami of product placement, it works. It’s pretty funny; it’s pretty charming; it’s good-natured. And as a bonus, it’s neither a “Star Wars” nor a Marvel movie.

 

Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly expressed similar sentiments, saying that the film succeeds because it doesn’t attempt to be anything more than a pleasant diversion.

What makes the film work, though, is that it doesn’t aim too high. It’s like a slam dunk on an 8-foot rim. Plus, if you’ve always wanted to see Shaquille O’Neal in gray muttonchop sideburns breakdancing and showing off his bare ass in a hospital gown, then this will be your Citizen Kane.

 

David Ehrlich of Indiewire lauded Irving’s performance, writing that Irving the actor capably set up his fellow players/actors to succeed. And, oh yeah, he said Irving did better in his big-screen debut than LeBron James did.

Irving fittingly spends most of the movie setting up his cast mates for easy slam dunks; he’s got strong comic timing, but his main objective is to offer an emotional anchor for everything around him. And Irving does just that. He’s sometimes funny, but he’s always good. LeBron didn’t even give this convincing a performance in “Trainwreck,” and he was playing himself.


The So-So

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In his two-star review, The Boston Globe’s Mark Feeney said that Celtics fans don’t have to worry about Irving looking like a fool on-screen, calling the movie “amiable enough, even crowd-pleasing, but pretty ramshackle.”

Celtics fans likely want to know two things about “Uncle Drew,” the new comedy starring the team’s biggest star, Kyrie Irving. In increasing order of urgency, they are: Is the movie any good, and does Irving embarrass himself? The answers are: sort of, and nowhere near.

 

The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore was impressed by the acting performances of the athletes, especially Irving’s, but he took fault with what he called screenwriter Jay Longino’s “pedestrian script.”

Anyone who’s seen an underdog sports film can write the rest of this picture, and Longino sees no need to reinvent the wheel, presumably accepting that the main reason we’re here is to see these creaking old dudes teach the young bloods a thing or two.


The Ugly

The A.V. Club’s  A.A. Dowd compared “Uncle Drew” to some of the poorer big-screen adaptations of “Saturday Night Live” sketches (“A Night At the Roxbury,” “The Ladies Man,” “It’s Pat”), and said that, like those misfires, the film exhausts its premise within minutes. 

Like the worst SNL spin-offs, Uncle Drew—which jettisons the whole Bad Grandpa angle of the ads—builds an entire feature around a one-joke comic creation. He wears out his welcome, and so does the film.

 

Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press said that the entire cast, including the basketball players, was clearly talented, but could do little with “the unimaginative script they’ve been given.” 

For a few shining minutes, “Uncle Drew” is the movie it surely intended to be: funny and clever, quick and snappy, and most of all, fun — all infused with love for the great sport of basketball. Unfortunately, those minutes come during the closing credits, a sequence entertaining enough to be its own viral video.

 

Sam Fragoso of The Wrap also cited the end credits as being the highlight of the film, which usually isn’t a good sign.

It’s in those closing credits that the film crystallizes into what it wants to be: a movie about a bunch of people who love basketball and trash-talking in equal measure. This is the film Stone (“Drumline”) probably wanted to make. What he actually made is something else.

 

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