Uncle Drew, a basketball comedy directed by Charles Stone III (Drumline, Mr. 3000), ought to be about the title character, a septuagenarian who was the best street-ball player in New York in 1968 before flaming out and disappearing. Played by NBA star Kyrie Irving and a lot of makeup, Uncle Drew is summoned from obscurity for a street-ball tournament, for which he recruits four fellow old-timers: Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), now a martial-arts instructor; Preacher (Chris Webber), a preacher; Lights (Reggie Miller), who is mostly blind now; and Boots (Nate Robinson), who hasn’t stood up under his own power in years. The group’s old rivalries resurface as they prepare to play against guys one-third their age.
For some reason, though, the movie is focused on Dax (Lil Rel Howery), the youngish man who wants to coach a team and persuades Uncle Drew to lead it. Dax’s star player, Casper (Aaron Gordon), was stolen away by his rival, Mookie (Nick Kroll), who ended Dax’s basketball career when they were teenagers, blocking a game-winning shot and humiliating him. Somehow Dax comes to believe that a squad of feeble senior citizens will be able to defeat Mookie’s dream team and shut Mookie up once and for all.
Dax’s story is unappealing and pathetic (he also has a girlfriend who doesn’t like him, played by Tiffany Haddish), and while Howery is a funny comic, Jay Longino’s screenplay doesn’t give him much to work with. The old-timers are a farce, of course, but there’s enough relatable material in their interactions to ground the film. Even the ridiculous subplot of Preacher’s wife (the WNBA’s Lisa Leslie) angrily pursuing him when he drops everything to drive to New York for the tournament has a likable sweetness to it.
The movie would have also been better if it were actually funny instead of just amiable. Granted, as someone who doesn’t watch basketball and was really only familiar with Shaq, I’m not the target audience for a lackadaisical, minimally plotted excuse for NBA stars to goof around. Word among friends who do fit the demographic is that they found Uncle Drew entertaining enough, but I contend it fails the Gene Siskel test: Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch? It is not.