The shot-in-Philly, Adam Sandler low-key drama “Hustle” is a great basketball movie, despite some unavoidable formulaic elements. It deserves to be listed in the Top Ten Philadelphia sports movies, up there with “Rocky,” “Invincible,” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”
It is now in theaters and on Netflix.
There has been adequate publicity about the film, and I’ll cover some of that in a minute, but there was one element that was of particular interest to me. It concerns host Anthony Gargano, who became a radio fixture here after doing time at the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers. His show is heard on 97.5/The Fanatic weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sandler seriously plays Stan Sugarman, a former Temple basketball star and a scout for the Sixers as the movie opens. Sixers’ owner Rex Merrick, Robert Duvall, in an extremely brief cameo, promotes Sugarman to his dream job of assistant coach.
Before you can say “layup,” Duvall dies, his unworthy son takes over the team, and after clashing with Sugarman, fires him. It is one of many disappointments Sugarman has shouldered.
The owner goes on Gargano’s show to denounce his former employee, and at that moment, a small light flickered in my brain.
The small light meant that Gargano did not give Sugarman an opportunity to respond. But — hell, it’s the movies, so who cares?
Well, Sugarman does and after he makes his expected return, in a face to face confrontation, he upbraids Gargano for doing a lousy job earlier by not giving his side of the story.
Wow. I have questions, so I put in a call to the man whose fans call him Cuz.
The South Philadelphia native tells me he got Screen Actors Guild minimum, a couple hundred bucks, for his brief appearance, then laughs when I ask him this:
Were you aware that you’d be used as an example of bad journalism in the script?
He hadn’t looked at it that way, he told me. “That was a fictional account of something,” he said.
In his real life, he believes “in the rules of journalism and I don’t take cheap shots at any time.”
We both believe there is a strong Philly sense in “Hustle,” thanks to director Jeremiah Zagar, the son of artist Isaiah Zagar, whose mirrored mosaics can be found on South Street.
The director grew up in South Philly and hung on South Street, when it was safe to do so.
When the film opens, Sugarman is a scout, roaming the world, seeking undiscovered talent to bring back to Philadelphia, to get us a championship.
Pop quiz: When was the Sixers last championship? (Answer at end.)
He’s on a lot of planes, eating a lot of KFC in hotel rooms around the world, assessing talent.
That reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s character in “Trouble With the Curve,” except Eastwood was a baseball scout — who questions the ability of a young phenom liked by management. In ”Hustle,” Sugarman has a prospect not liked by the new owner.
Being a scout means constant travel, and Sugarman wants to spend more time at home with his wife, played by Queen Latifah, which figures in modern movies. Just an observation, I have no problem with that.
As you can imagine, Sugarman and his prospect have their ups and downs — more than you might expect.
This movie somewhat matches the outdoor running sequences of “Rocky,” but at the Manayunk Wall instead of the Italian Market, and Sandler gives props to local establishments.
In one long scene he’s wearing a Federal Donuts sweatshirt, and the young star, played by Juancho Hernangomez., is booked into the Loew’s on Market Street, although it would have made a lot more sense, and created comedy, by having him live with the Sugarmans.
No, I don’t want to direct. I’m a writer.
Pop Quiz answer: Next year will be the 40th anniversary of our last Championship in 1983. Are you listening, Joel Embiid? (One of the few starters without a cameo in the film.)