WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP Review: Neither Can This Movie
Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow star in a limp remake, co-written and produced by Kenya Barris, directed by Calmatic, and debuting on Hulu.
White Men Can't Jump (2023)
The film begins streaming on May 19, 2023, exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America, and Disney+ under the Star banner in all other territories.
You can't replicate magic in a bottle.
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson played two trash-talking basketball hustlers in Ron Shelton's enormously funny comedy. The film elevated their careers, made lots of money and immortalized the titular phrase, which resonated widely in New York City, where I lived during and after the film's original release in 1992.
A new version takes a different approach, shifting the focus from a male-dominated environment to a family-first story, examining the effect that a hustling lifestyle has on the hustlers' partners and children. Kenya Barris, a prolific creative force over the past few years in films and television, and Doug Hall are credited for the screenplay for the same-titled remake, based on a story by Barris, Hall, and Shelton, which makes Kamal (Sinqua Walls) a former great prospect struggling to support his family, stymied by his own anger issues, and Jeremy (Jack Harlow) a good player who was stymied by injuries yet still dreams of turning professional.
Rather than the fiery and feisty Jeopardy-stardom dreamer Rosie Perez dominating the supporting action and giving as good as she got in the original, Kamal and Jeremy are partnered with faintly disapproving, no-nonsense mates Imani and Tatiana (Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier, respectively) who want their partners to grow up and accept their adult responsibilities. We often see them shaking their heads in disbelief; it's clear their patience is wearing thin.
The original film was fueled by the chemistry that sparked between Snipes and Harrelson, which is entirely lacking in the relationship between Walls and Harlow. As he demonstrated in a supporting role in Nanny, Walls can convincingly portray multiple layers of emotions in a single role, so it's no surprise that he's instantly believable whenever his character here erupts into anger. Yet he's unable to spark any chemistry with Harlow, a rapper making his screen debut, which means many, many lines fall flat.
Some of the jokes are funny as written, but they are undermined by poor delivery and overwhelmed with an avalanche of "what? Is that supposed to be funny? Am I meant to laugh?" Directed by Calmatic, a music-vid vet who also helmed the recent House Party remake, the film is edited as a comedy, even if it's not particularly funny, and looks good. Its aesthetic has been uplifted from the gritty streets, mirroring the story's emphasis on the need to move on with life and become more responsible.
With a minimum of trash-talking, funny or otherwise, though, and little else to distract, attention inevitably turns to the familiar story, which feels routine, almost rote, as well as the poorly-defined characters. Even the great Lance Reddick, in one of his final performances, cannot do much with his underwritten supporting role.
Your time would be better served by watching the combustible original, which is also streaming on Hulu.
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