The 1992 original of ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ starring then-up-and-coming rising stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, is one of the best basketball movies ever made. The movie boasts Snipes and Harrelson’s terrific buddy-movie chemistry with great basketball scenes, snappy dialogues, and Rosie Perez’s solid supporting turn. It’s the kind of movie that is best to be left alone because, well, you know, remakes of classic films generally suck these days.
But director Calmatic, who already did a remake of the 1990s comedy classic ‘House Party’ earlier this year, took up the challenge by giving ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ a contemporary update for today’s generation. The story – credited to TV’s ‘Black-ish’ screenwriting duo Kenya Barris and Doug Hall – basically follows the same template but with a few tweaks here and there. In other words, the 2023 version isn’t a shot-for-shot remake other than using the fundamental basis of Ron Shelton’s original screenplay as a jumping-off point.
The remake retains the street-hustling elements as we see the two mismatched foes-turned-friends making money by winning basketball and streetball matches. Their characters’ names, however, are changed from Snipes’ Sidney Deane to Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls) and Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle to Jeremy (Jack Harlow).
They are even given different backstories, where Kamal used to be a rising basketball star before an ugly incident caused his once-promising career to go down the drain. He is now working as a delivery driver but still shooting hoops in his spare time with his friends, Speedy (Vince Staples) and Renzo (Myles Bullock).
One day, a white guy named Jeremy shows up and crosses paths with Kamal in a basketball game of best out of five. Like Kamal, Jeremy also has a past – a former Gonzaga star whose career was forced to be cut short due to his two busted ACLs. He was first seen making money by training basketball rookies, introducing meditation, and promoting his homemade detox juices.
Long story short, they go from insulting each other to forming a partnership for an upcoming local tournament to win the $25,000 prize money.
The chemistry between Snipes and Harrelson is among the major reasons that made the original ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ such an enduring classic even today. Calmatic tries to re-create that same magic with Sinqua Walls and rapper-turned-actor Jack Harlow, both of which surprisingly deliver decent performances as two mismatched partners. Walls, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Miami Heat basketball great Dwyane Wade, turned out to be a real-life basketball player for San Francisco Dons back in his college days.
This makes him more natural in performing the basketball scenes while doing an adequate job as a short-tempered player with an anger management issue.
Despite this remake being his acting debut, Harlow’s eccentric schtick brings a certain goofy charm to his role as Jeremy. It’s just too bad most of the humor here tends to feel forceful or awkwardly misplaced (seriously, what’s up with the out-of-nowhere ‘Mad Max’ joke and a guy with a flamethrower?).
Even the colorful profanities that dominated 1992 original are significantly toned down in favor of a more politically correct sense of humor. For instance, there’s a scene where Jeremy tells Kamal that ‘the race shit is dated [since] white dudes can hoop now.’ In fact, it was a reference repeated a few more times but in a different context about white men who can jump, hoop, and dunk throughout the movie.
The supporting roles, however, are forgettable. While the original ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ has Rosie Perez as Billy Hoyle’s long-suffering but sensible girlfriend, the remake lacks a strong female character as Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier, who play Kamal and Jeremy’s respective significant others are sadly underutilized here. And so does the late Lance Reddick in one of his final roles as Kamal’s multiple-sclerosis father and former coach, who deserved better than he gets in this movie.
‘White Men Can’t Jump’ also drags in places as Calmatic attempts to fill in his movie beyond the story about two unlikely partners teaming up to score some extra bucks and win a local tournament.
He wants to address both Kamal and Jeremy’s past and present issues regardless of their personal demons or domestic problems back home. But instead of something emotionally resonant or heartfelt meant to give the movie a much-needed dramatic urgency, it ends up more like a bloated outcome.
As for the basketball scenes, Calmatic throws in a mix of crane and drone shots as well as some slow-motion, but none of them has the kinetic energy of 1992 original. They are as visually appealing as you would see in a flashy music video – all style but little to no substance.
‘White Men Can’t Jump’ is currently streaming on Hulu and Disney+.