A few laughs can’t justify new ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow star in pointless Hulu remake that’s only occasionally amusing.

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Sinqua Walls (left) and Jack Harlow play the new two-on-two duo in a remake of “White Men Can’t Jump.”

20th Century Studios

We have a perfectly good “White Men Can’t Jump” available for streaming right now on Fubo and Hulu and Roku and Vudu and there was a time not so long ago when you would have said, “Those aren’t even words.” But those are just a few of the streaming platforms where you can rent or buy Ron Shelton’s 1992 playground hoops favorite. It’s right there for the watching!

The OG “WMCJ” was a film very much of its time, and while the humor is somewhat dated, it still plays quite well because Shelton (“Bull Durham,” “Tin Cup”) is a master of the underdog sports comedy, and Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson made for such a good team—with an all-star assist from Rosie Perez as Harrelson’s “Jeopardy!”-loving girlfriend. Still, we’re getting a new “White Men Can’t Jump” on Hulu, because it’s apparently some sort of Hollywood Law that every pop culture touchstone movie or TV show from the 1980s or 1990s will be rebooted whether we want it or not—and while this is a serviceable, breezy, warm-hearted and occasionally amusing update, there’s nary a moment when it doesn’t feel … unnecessary.

“White Men Can’t Jump” 2023 is the second remake for director Calmatic this year, following the disastrous “House Party” from last January, and while it’s not as clumsy or weirdly tone-deaf as that bomb, the screenplay by Kenya Barris (“black-ish”) and Doug Hall misses a couple of major opportunities, including the decision to have the most dramatic development of the entire movie take place offscreen. (We’ll leave it at that so as not to spoil anything.)

‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Untitled

20th Century Studios presents a film directed by Calmatic and written by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall. Rated R (for pervasive language and some drug material). Running time: 101 minutes. Available Friday on Hulu.

This is a well-shot film that celebrates a host of Los Angeles neighborhoods and has the spirit and basic framework of the classic sports movie, complete with the Big Game, but even that climactic scene falls a little flat because the putatively villainous opponents are virtually anonymous.

As for our ragtag, lovable but downtrodden heroes: Sinqua Walls plays Kamal Allen, a former high school sensation who saw his dreams disappear in a flash 10 years ago when he assaulted a taunting fan in the stands, and rapper Jack Harlow is Jeremy, who starred at Gonzaga and might have been bound for the pros had he not blown out his knees. These days, Kamal’s basketball activity amounts to pick-up games at his old high school gym while he works full-time as a delivery driver for a UPS-type company, while Jeremy knocks around dressed like a weed-soaked surfer as he trains young players and tries to hawk his dubious recovery products, e.g., 30-day detox program drink that may or may not work.

After Jeremy hustles Kamal in a shoot-around and Kamal finds himself in need of cash after his company cuts his shifts, Kamal proposes they team up and start playing playground games for cash around the city, in order to raise the funds necessary to enter a big-time two-on-two competition. (The whole “White Men Can’t Jump” angle is essentially lost, as nobody really cares that Jeremy is white. Sure, they underestimate him a little, but that’s mostly because he looks and talks like such a goof.) The buddy-movie chemistry between Walls and Harlow is just OK, and the dialogue rarely rises above the level of Jeremy saying, “Why are black guys so obsessed with haircuts?” and Kamal responding, “Why do white guys not give a f--- about ’em?”

The supporting cast is actually quite special. Laura Harrier gives a glowing performance as Jeremy’s out-of-his-league girlfriend Tatiana, a choreographer who has just been offered a job on tour with SZA, while Teyana Taylor steals every scene she’s in as Kamal’s wife, Imani, who works tirelessly out of a makeshift hair salon in her living room, dreams of running her own salon and is a wonderful wife and mother. The late Lance Reddick also shines in one of his final roles, as Kamal’s father, who was a kind of colorful, LaVar Ball-esque character overseeing Kamal’s career back in the day but is now fighting MS and hoping his son will regain his passion for basketball, and life.

We get some decent but not particularly inventive hoops sequences, set to the sounds of catchy tunes such as “Whoomp! (There It Is)” by Tag Team and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War. There are some nice, funny and authentic down-time moments, e.g., a birthday party for Kamal’s son where Jeremy shows up toting a bottle of Hennessy, which amuses the hosts more than it offends. Romantic relationships are threatened, friendships are bent to the point of breaking—and then it’s time for a gigantic tournament, with the winner taking home $500,000. I’m not going to say how it turns out, but there’s a CHANCE it could all come down to one last play.


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