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.
Of course the rim isn’t set too high in a movie based on a series of Pepsi commercials. Hey, it could be worse: “Transformers” movies are based on a line of toys. And most of Irving’s acting competition comes from former basketball players.
Shaquille O’Neal, made up to “look like Wolverine’s grandfather,” as another character aptly observes, is one big man who knows his way around the big screen. Chris Webber and onetime Celtic Nate Robinson do just fine. Reggie Miller is borderline, and Lisa Leslie, looking regal in a white wig, has even more presence than Shaq does. Shonda Rhimes, create a series for this woman — and it doesn’t need to have anything to do with sports.
The four males play Irving’s teammates (Leslie plays Webber’s wife), reunited 50 years after they were on the verge of winning New York’s Rucker League basketball tournament. Drew, their leader, was the ultimate playground legend.
The movie opens with an inspired touch: a mock-ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about him. Things quickly sag. Drew disappears for a while, as attention turns to Dax, an overactive and undersized coach trying to put together a Rucker team. Lil Rel Howery manages to be both endearing and annoying in the role, playing an older and even less wise version of Mars Blackmon. Dax has a longstanding nemesis (Nick Kroll, tiresomely over the top in his nemesis-ness), who torpedoes those Rucker plans.
This is where Uncle Drew comes in. He and Dax reassemble the old team, though not without complications. Anyone who’s seen “Hoosiers” — or basically any sports movie — can guess how things turn out.
“Uncle Drew” is amiable enough, even crowd-pleasing, but pretty ramshackle. It’s like a Tyler Perry movie with jump shots. Charles A. Stone III’s direction doesn’t exactly push the ball up the court. Jay Longino’s screenplay lards all the hoop action and comedy with troweled-on sentimentality and even a little romance — a little in this case still being too much.
The script’s at its intermittent best with the comedy. Highlights include two Trump jokes (one of them impressively subtle), a Jerry West joke that’s vastly funnier for being told by Jerry West, a sequence of jokes about 8-track tapes (Drew’s preferred means of listening to music — he’s a big Isley Brothers fan), a “Getting Out” joke, and several about Beyoncé. During the closing credits, none other than John Calipari serves as straight man for a Duke/Kentucky joke, with former Blue Devil Irving getting to deliver the punchline.
Those closing credits also offer a montage of the elaborate aging process undergone by Irving and his teammates: prostheses and wigs and such. Irving’s white hair and beard make him look a bit like Celtics great Bill Russell. With all due respect to the actors and actor-hoopsters, it’s the makeup people who give the film’s best performance.
Directed by Charles Stone III. Written by Jay Longino. Starring Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13 (suggestive material, language, and brief nudity involving a very famous person’s very large buttocks).Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.