The poster for the original 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump featured a photo of its two stars, identified merely as “Wesley” and “Woody.” They were, of course, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, whose charismatic screen personas were already so well-defined that no further explanation was necessary.
That’s not exactly the case with this ill-advised remake, which comes across as an uninspired retread that lacks its own reason for being other than its appeal to baby boomer nostalgia. And no disrespect to the talents of the new film’s leads, but “Sinqua and Jack” just doesn’t have the same ring. Which is probably why the new White Men Can’t Jump is premiering domestically on Hulu rather than theatrically.
White Men Can’t Jump
The Bottom Line
The film is directed by Calmatic, who, after this and the recent House Party, seems to be establishing a strange career pattern making inferior remakes of beloved ‘90s films. Sinqua Walls (BET’s American Soul) and rapper Jack Harlow, the latter making his acting debut, play Kamal and Jeremy, their characters renamed but essentially the same as Snipes’ and Harrelson’s in the original.
Any version of White Men Can’t Jump depends on the chemistry of the two leads (although Rosie Perez also contributed mightily to the ’92 film), and while Walls and Harlow do perfectly credible work, they’re hard-pressed to live up to their predecessors. Once again, the story hinges on the main characters’ very different personalities, resulting in clashes between the hot-headed, high-strung Kamal, who derailed his promising hoops career with his anger issues, and the laid-back, bohemian Jeremy, whose equally rosy basketball trajectory was cut short by knee injuries.
The odd couple-dynamics provide occasional if predictable laughs in the screenplay by Kenya Barris (Black-ish) and Doug Hall, with the original film’s writer-director Ron Shelton here given a story credit. The mellow, vegan-eating Jeremy, who wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase “Self-Care Club,” attempts to introduce Kamal to the beneficial effects of meditation and healthy food, while Kamal, a loving father to the young son he has with his wife Imani (Teyana Taylor), in turn tries to get his new friend and partner in basketball hustling to grow up and accept adult responsibilities — especially when it comes to his longtime girlfriend Tatiana (Laura Harrier, Spider-Man: Homecoming).
Very little in this version makes as much of an impression as the first film (sorry, but if you’re going to do remakes instead of trying for something new, you’re going to get these sorts of constant comparisons), from its irreverent, frequently racially tinged humor to its straining for emotion. The latter is most evident in a subplot involving Kamal’s relationship with his father, who’s suffering from multiple sclerosis. That character is played by Lance Reddick in one of his final screen appearances, which lends the film an unintended extra level of poignancy. The late actor, to whom the film is dedicated, isn’t really given very much to do here, but his quietly powerful presence is as welcome as always.
Director Calmatic succeeds in capturing the intensely sunny, Los Angeles street hoops atmosphere, and the many basketball sequences, leading up to the inevitable big tournament climax, are suitably stirring. Some of the frequently profane dialogue is amusing in a throwaway kind of way, although I could have done without one of the characters muttering “Y’all acting like white men can’t jump” after Jeremy makes a big play.
Harlow makes a surprisingly strong impression in his film acting debut, signaling that more big screen roles are in his future, while Walls provides the requisite simmering intensity and formidable physicality as the anger-prone Kamal. Taylor (who recently made such a powerful impression in A Thousand and One) and Harrier provide a strong female presence, the latter thankfully not having to deal with such silly plot elements as Perez’s character dreaming of going on Jeopardy in the first film.