‘White Men Can’t Jump’ Review: Bouncing Off the Rim
Written and directed by Ron Shelton, the 1992 sports comedy White Man Can’t Jump was a brash, provocative film with a raucously skewed take on race relations and streetball. The film is popular, but not so immortal that the possibility of a remake raises thoughts of blasphemy.
So the Kalmatic-directed film, based on a script by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall, feels more like a missed opportunity than a blasphemy. And if you miss the opportunity, things get pretty serious.
Our pick-up basketball partners here are rapper Jack Harlow as Jeremy, who is white, and actor Sinqua Walls as Kamal, who is black. Kamal was a promising high school player, but his downfall is revealed in gradual flashbacks. Jeremy has both his knees blown off, is addicted to painkillers, and is growing his reputation as a fraudster. Both have the standard problem “strong women” in their lives, and both let these women down all the time.
In the 1992 photo, the stars Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes were so animated that they almost popped out of the frame. Their female foil was played by Rosie Perez, with a subplot about her becoming a contestant on the television quiz show Jeopardy!. — that was one of the many quirky delights of this movie.
This version has few quirks and less spark. To some extent, Harlow is also a game and a capable comedic performer—as he proved last year when he hosted Saturday Night Live—and anarchy like Harrelson. No near unpredictability. And while Walls is charming, he falls short of Snipes’ intensity.
The script by Barris and Hall, veterans of the TV sitcom Blackish, does the actors no favors. The scene where Jeremy brings a bottle of Hennessy brandy to Kamal’s kid’s birthday party to show off his “authenticity” to black liquor preferences is meant to be funny. I know what it’s like. But it flattens out awkwardly. And try this on for illustration. “My girlfriend is a crazy talented choreographer and her income is so erratic right now that she’s wasting her time teaching classes at a dance studio.” Thanks for the update, Jeremy.
Near the end of the film, Kamal’s father Benji, played by the prodigious Lance Reddick, has to tell his son this stiff line from his hospital bed. ”
The trash talk between Kamal and Jeremy, sometimes casually and sometimes seriously, is equally uninspiring. By the time it reaches the second half of the narrative, the film has completely abandoned the sometimes near-screwball comedy of Shelton films in favor of a triumphant drama of overcoming adversity, completing a big-money game the duo can’t resist. I am moving , despite the adverse circumstances. Basketball action is like a screenplay, directed and filmed in a matter-of-fact way. Not only does this movie not jump, it barely gets off the couch.
white men can’t jump
Rated R for language. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. Watch on Hulu.