One of the cinematic triumphs of the 1990s is the fast-talking sports comedy White Men Can’t Jump. Director Ron Shelton surprised the world by crafting a story about two hustlers who join forces to win big money. White Men Can’t Jump helped highlight emerging hip-hop culture while also telling a unique story. Its status as a classic caused many to question the choice to reboot the franchise. With Kenya Barris on board to write the film, Calmatic directs the new vision of the story. While this remake struggles to capture the electricity of the original, it succeeds through its empathetic depictions of its characters and their struggles.
One day at a high school gym, former phenom Kamal (Sinqua Walls) challenges a trainer to a three-point contest. Little does he know, Jeremy (Jack Harlow) played college ball at Gonzaga. After each suffers missteps and frustrations, they join forces to hustle some games. This opens an opportunity to score real money and change their lives.
On one hand, Barris and Doug Hall‘s screenplay does its best at replicating the verbal sparring between its protagonists. However, few moments actually duplicate the trash talk from Snipes and Harrelson. Simply put, Harlow delivers blunt jokes in lieu of acting. In most cases, he simply does not pull through the emotion or comedy of the scene. This leads to some frustrating moments, including the “he looks like…” gag, which relies on casting a person that makes the joke work.
While Walls and Harlow do not talk trash, side characters Myles Bullock and Vince Staples talk plenty. Staples once again proves he’s a talented comedic performer. With this and his turn on Abbott Elementary, it’s clear he’s racking up the credits that match his technique. On the other hand, Bullock tells some truly horrendous jokes that do not land.
Where White Men Can’t Jump will either win you over or cause you to call it out is the Walls performance. At no point does Walls ever appear frazzled. He’s locked in and puts emotion on display. Walls adds universality to the role, ensuring that even those of us who are terrible at basketball can relate to his character. It’s an impressive feat, and Walls takes advantage of every line reading. If you were to guess a breakout from White Men Can’t Jump, it would have to be Walls.
Lance Reddick‘s turn hits even harder in the wake of his passing. He plays off Walls to perfection and sells the emotional threads of the movie. He’s outstanding and once again shows why we will miss his contributions to the art form. Another massive boost to this version are the women. Teyana Taylor gives a more emotionally complex performance. She’s a strong character, and even though she often encourages other characters, she gets plenty of moments to shine. Laura Harrier showcases more agency than her fellow women. Her goals and dreams cannot be pushed to the side. This allows her to create some incredible moments.
While there’s only so far a remake that relies on chemistry can go, White Men Can’t Jump does just enough to establish its own roots. With an incredible performance from Walls, and some good one-liners along the way, we’ve got ourselves a winner. While this version does not seem destined for pop culture fame, it’s still an interesting look at the world of streetball nearly 30 years after the original.