(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Ron Shelton’s 1992 basketball comedy “White Men Can’t Jump” lived and breathed off of the electric personalities and hilarious chemistry between its two leads, Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. When hearing a remake was on the way I immediately wondered if there was any way it could recapture that kind of energy? In a word, no. And in many ways not even close. In fact, it’s accurate to say this “update” barely resembles its inspiration.
This bland and frankly needless remake comes from director Charles Kidd II aka Calmatic. In it Sinqua Walls plays Kamal Allen a former high school basketball phenom who was projected as a “can’t miss” player. He was heavily recruited by colleges and NBA teams alike. But an arrest for assault during his senior year tarnished his reputation and scared away every interested party. So now he’s stuck in a minimum wage job driving a deliver truck, barely scraping by and trying to support his wife Imani (Teyana Taylor) and their young son. He can still hoop, but he’s given up on ever playing professional basketball.
Jeremy (played by rapper Jack Harlow in his acting debut) once had a promising basketball future of his own and was a standout player at Gonzaga University. But two blown ACLs sidetracked his dreams. So now he’s selling cheap bottled health drinks and hustling streetball games for cash. He desperately wants to play basketball again and he has the wild idea that “regenerative medicine” is his ticket to the NBA G League. But his girlfriend Tatiana (Laura Harrier) wants him to focus more on their future together.
The two former ballers cross paths at a neighborhood gym where Jeremy promptly hustles Kamal out of $300. It understandably leaves a sour taste in Kamal’s mouth. But with both of them in desperate need of money, they end up teaming together to play in a two-on-two streetball tournament with a massive payout going to the winners. First, they’ll have to hustle a few neighborhood games to pay for their entry fee. Second, they’ll have to do it without killing each other. That proves to be a tough ask.
From the very start, the story just doesn’t have the energy or the spirit of the 1992 original. And at times it doesn’t even seem try. The script occasionally attempts (but falls terribly short) at recreating the playful banter, the culturally tinged back-and-forths, and the hilarious insults that Snipes and Harrelson fired off so naturally. A lot of it has to do with the lukewarm chemistry between Walls and Harlow. Individually their performances are fine, but neither have the charisma of a Snipes or a Harrelson. And together there simply isn’t much of a spark between them.
To compensate, the movie ventures off into some more dramatic directions, none of which work particularly well. Co-writers Kenya Barris and Doug Hall attempt to cook up some interest in Kamal and Jeremy’s home life. But these side dishes consist of little more than Imani and Tatiana understandably losing patience with their bone-headed beaus.
We find some hope in these family scenes in the form of the late Lance Reddick who plays Kamal’s father, Benji Allen. At first he comes across as an overbearing LaVar Ball type. But over time we get a sense that there’s actually more to his character. Unfortunately we’re left to wonder because Reddick doesn’t get much screen time and the father-son relationship is left painfully underserved.
So we’re left with everything else, nothing of which will stick with you past the closing credits. The humdrum humor certainly won’t as it rarely registers. And there’s definitely not enough personality or charm to leave any kind of mark. Even the basketball scenes fall flat. And I’m still trying to figure out why they even bothered calling it “White Men Can’t Jump” considering how little it has in common with the considerably better original. Maybe the idea looked better on paper. Maybe it’s a cash grab. Either way, it doesn’t make for a good movie. “White Men Can’t Jump” is now streaming on Hulu.