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‘White Men Can’t Jump’ (2023, review)

Y’all act like white men can’t dunk.”

Myles Bullock’s Renzo states in a baffled tone when the crowd at a basketball tournament erupts as Jack Harlow’s Jeremy unleashes a dunk during a pivotal juncture in the big game.

In many ways, Renzo’s perplexed statement is a commentary on the past and present this film represents.

White Men Can’t Jump is a remake of the beloved 1992 sports comedy starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. Fast forward 31 years, and now Sinqua Walls (Power) and fast-rising rap star Jack Harlow are the lead hoopers.

Jeremy (Harlow) and Kamal Allen (Walls) are two people who are hard up for money and team up to use their considerable basketball talents to make ends meet.

The means, however, is unstable, and a big win by the pair is needed to set things right for them and their loved ones.

That is where the similarities between their journey and that of Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane essentially ends.

Walls and Harlow lack the charisma and charm of Snipes and Harrelson that made the original film so memorable.

The thing is, that’s not the movie’s biggest flaw. It’s in the name, or rather, calling it White Men Can’t Jump.

It’s less reboot and more of a film with the name of a popular basketball movie slapped onto it. None of the trailers and preview clips looked compelling. Marketing-wise, the name is the biggest thing the movie has going for it and the reason why this Hulu feature will garner viewers.

Yes, the title begs comparison of the new release with the original.

However, if you can view this new edition objectively, there is a competent movie.

We get to know Jeremy and Kamal more than we did Sidney and Billy. Pick-up basketball swagger aside, Kamal is a former high school basketball star destined for superstardom until he lost it all due to anger issues that plagued him throughout the film. Jeremy is a jesting once-upon-a-time college basketball player who still aspires to make it to the NBA, but the dream and a knee injury create many roadblocks.

Ultimately, Kamal and Jeremy can’t get out of their own way, which tends to creep up at the worst times.

The humor is well-written, but none of the jokes land due to the muted performances. The only ones that come close to elevating the material are Myles Bullock and Vince Staples, who play Kamal’s friends as a comedic duo who talk more trash than their station allows.

Undoubtedly, the movie was meant to be a vehicle for Harlow, but the lack of promotion suggests that the plan was abandoned sometime after production wrapped. The script doesn’t ask anything of Harlow but to be his laid-back self. The toned-down performances appear designed so that Harlow is not outshined in a movie debut meant to make him a bigger deal than he already is.

Even the flame thrower scene, which harkens back to the original where Raymond went to his car to get a gun once he learned of Sidney and Billy’s hustle, fails its objective, considering one weapon is more visually threatening than the other.

While there are some mild comedic attempts to exploit the racial dynamic between the black-and-white duo with Walls and Harlow, it doesn’t work. Such a concept is less polarizing today than it was in 1992. The myth that white people can’t play basketball is mainly passe. Renzo’s comment about white people dunking is rather profound because the film is aware that the original’s social commentary doesn’t apply here despite leaning on it several times.

Teyana Taylor’s Imani tells Kamal everything about him, screams about what he doesn’t want to do, and nothing about what he wants. The line perfectly encapsulates Wall’s presence on screen, turning in the film’s blue-ribbon performance.

We’re also treated to one of the final performances of the late Lance Reddick. The John Wick star plays Kamal Allen’s highly supportive father. Fear that Reddick might play a bombastic version of real-life blowhard basketball dad LeVar Ball was quickly dispelled in the film’s opening moments. Reddick plays a loving father who teaches his son the value of hard work. Unfortunately, his story hits a little too close to home in light of recent events.

Word of mouth regarding 2023’s White Men Can’t Jump is nearly nonexistent. Many people don’t seem to know about the film, and even fewer seem to care about it. It could be poor promotion, overestimating Jack Harlow’s popularity, or simply no appetite for a remake of the 90s classic.

Despite the absence of memorable jokes about mothers and Mason’s conventions (watch the original), the dynamic between Harlow and Walls and their struggles makes the viewer cheer them on for most of the film’s 101-minute run time. Those who can’t help but compare the two films will hate the contemporary offering with a burning passion. However, viewers who can compartmentalize will find a serviceable enough film that is more than a carbon copy and makes for a decent watch that most will forget once the end credits roll.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Kenya Barris, E. Brian Dobbins, Blake Griffin
Written by Kenya Barris, Doug Hall, Ron Shelton
Based on White Men Can’t Jump by Ron Shelton
Directed by Calmatic
Starring Sinqua Walls, Jack Harlow, Lance Reddick, Teyana Taylor,
Laura Harrier, Myles Bullock, Vince Staples, James Earl

White Men Can’t Jump is currently streaming on Hulu

 

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