The best candidates for remakes are movies that are flawed to begin with. 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump is filled with fantastic basketball compositions, iconic wardrobes, a totally memorable Jeopardy! sequence, an even more memorable Rosie Perez, and lots and lots of charm. It is not, however, a perfect movie.
Like its progenitor, the 2023 remake of White Men Can’t Jump follows two amateur basketball players with some serious skills and financial woes. In this version, Sinqua Walls plays Kamal Allen, a former number-one prospect in high school whose penchant for fighting spoiled his hopes of joining the NBA. On the other side, Jack Harlow plays Jeremy, a former college hooper for Gonzaga who blew out both of his ACLs and now aspires to be a personal coach and social media influencer.
In the original, the relationship between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson’s characters is the film’s biggest puzzle. While the actors have great chemistry, writer-director Ron Shelton was never able to crack open his protagonists or utilize them in tandem in any meaningful way. Nor did he ever rectify how their involvement with one another is actually detrimental for the story’s progression.
For the remake, the story earnestly focuses on the friendship that cultivates between the black and white leads, and the unspoken understanding of one another that grows over the course of the film. We don’t have any lectures about race relations, but both sides are able to poke fun at one another safely without things ever getting blown out of proportion. These are just two adult men who have assumptions about one another (like all people have), but their increasing position as allies throughout the film is never influenced by those assumptions. They become close regardless, coming to see how they’re both similar and different. And what’s beautiful is that, in 2023, none of these lessons ever have to be spelled out for us.
The racial and cultural differences offer a chance for comedy but hardly play into the plot like they do in the original (which also handled the themes well but approached them more head-on). Likewise, writers Kenya Barris and Doug Hall don’t fall into modern-day woke traps and keep the dialogue refreshing and two-sided.
I have to say, I was interested in how a remake of White Men Can’t Jump remake would be handled in 2023, especially in a society that seems to believe that white men can’t/shouldn’t do or say anything. However, I’m happy to say that my review is actually more sociopolitical than the movie itself.
Relatable to anyone who’s ever had their fate derailed, the movie never gets too heavy with its themes about dreams and responsibility. Instead, it focuses on retooling your life’s passion into something tangential and meaningful in its own right. This year’s White Men Can’t Jump is like a spiritual cousin of last year’s Adam Sandler showpiece Hustle, mixed in with some Hoop Dreams (maybe). It never asks you to overthink what it’s doing – if even analyze it at all – but the film does provide an entertaining enough dish to enjoy, strings-free.
While Ron Shelton, creator of the 1992 film, returns as a producer and story writer, Snipes and Harrelson, who played the same roles (different names and backstories) in the original, don’t make any sort of appearance, and it’s honestly not even missed. The remake also never tries to do that thing where it indulges us with gratuitous NBA cameos, aside from a couple of brief moments at the end.
On a very basic level, director Calmatic (not his real name) understands archetypes that make movies digestible. Kamal is the definite straight-man, and Walls does an excellent job at making his deadpan seem as believable as possible. Meanwhile, Harlow, in his acting debut, never overdoes the comedy, but it’s Calmatic who seems to be reining him in.
A lot of green directors (this is only his second feature and second remake with this year’s House Party) try to get comedy out of every moment or performance, but Calmatic picks his spots well. The filmmaker finds levity from the camera as well through cuts and pans; he doesn’t just rely on his talents on screen – though they do well to find it themselves too.
It may lack the beautiful basketball sequences of the original (NBA legend Bob Lanier trained both Snipes and Harrelson up to an NCAA DII level), its downright curiosities like the aforementioned Jeopardy! subplot, and the atmospheric touches of its Venice Beach milieu, but the White Men Can’t Jump remake fixes what its predecessor did wrong – even if it leaves out everything the 1992 movie does right as well.