Film Review: ‘Uncle Drew’

You know that feeling when you go to the megaplex, buy your ticket, then hit the concession stand to order a bucket of popcorn and a large soda, only to discover that they carry only Pepsi products? Stuck playing catch-up in the on-screen marketing game ever since Coca-Cola bought Columbia Pictures in 1982, Pepsi has been trying to get its hooks into the moviegoing experience for decades, and now, America’s runner-up soft-drink brand has found a strategy that goes beyond product placement, underwriting a big-screen version of its “Uncle Drew” viral short film phenom, in which NBA star Kyrie Irving dons “Dirty Grandpa”-style old-man makeup and punks a bunch of unsuspecting street ball players.

While it won’t increase your appetite for zero-calorie sugar water one bit (oddly enough, Nike gets far more prominent on-screen placement), this affectionate basketball-themed comedy from sports-savvy director Charles Stone III (“Mr. 3000”) comes across as an effective feature-length ad for the game itself. Whereas the central joke of the web series came in watching hotshots get schooled by Irving in disguise, screenwriter Jay Longino has the challenge of fleshing out Uncle Drew’s character and creating plenty of trash-talk opportunities for stand-up comics LilRel Howery, Nick Kroll, and Tiffany Haddish, brought on to boost the movie’s laugh factor. But there’s something wrong with the premise this time around, since we’re now asked to see the likes of Irving and NBA pals Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal as seniors, and to feign shock when, at the last moment, they turn out to have more tricks than the Harlem Globetrotters.

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