Reel Reviews | White Men Can’t Jump

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

Hip-hop director, Calmatic, takes his second foray into the re-creation of a classic movie from the nineties this time with, White Men Can’t Jump.

Once upon a time, Kamal (Sinqua Walls) had it all.  A high school basketball standout, he was headed for college and a basketball career until a defining moment derailed his future.  Now as a delivery driver, he holds onto the past by playing pickup games in his old high school gym.  One day, after getting hustled by a weird and goofy white guy named Jeremy (Jack Harlow), Kamal sees an opportunity to get his life back on track by winning the grand prize of $500,000 in a local basketball tournament.  The question becomes can Jeremy get along with Kamal long enough to get to the tournament?

With a screenplay written by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall from a story by Barris, Hall, and Ron Shelton, White Men Can’t Jump is loosely based upon the movie story from the 1991 classic film of the same name.  White Men stars Walls, and Harlow with Teyana Taylor, Laura Harrier, Lance Reddick, Myles Bullock, and Vince Staples.  The movie is directed by Calmatic who directed last year’s House Party.

Before anything else can be said, this movie is not a remake, this is a re-imagining.  Sure the story is similar to a couple of guys scamming others on the basketball court to play in a major tournament but the similarity ends there.  The original film was a hilarious and controversial movie with a bittersweet, Casablanca-style ending.  This film is quite funny but the story is very straightforward and devoid of the controversial racial themes of the first movie.  The movie even admits to the evolution of basketball since the nineties and that basketball players across the board are more evenly talented.  The original White Men had multiple emotional peaks and valleys in its story.  The story in the new version is much flatter and consistent in its emotions.  This is not to say that it is a bad thing, it’s just completely different.

In this case, different is good.  This new White Men Can’t Jump is a better story than the first.  The characters are much better developed and therefore much more relatable than in the first movie.  The story is flatter and probably more cliché than the original but it makes much more sense too.  Being flatter, this movie will not have you rolling in the aisles laughing like the first did but its humor is more smart and more appropriate to the time. 

The first movie was more of an ensemble film than this one.  While Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson were the main characters in the original, the supporting cast was phenomenal.  Here, Jack Harlow and Sinqua Walls do all the heavy lifting.  Sure, Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier are important to the film but they are nowhere near as crucial to the film as Rosie Perez and Tyra Ferrell were.  (And there is absolutely no one even close to Kadeem Hardison!)  But, Harlow and Walls work together well.  This is Harlow’s first real acting job but watching the film you really can’t tell it.  This is to the credit of both the director, Calmatic, and Sinqua Walls.  This story focuses on Walls’ character as the true anchor of the film.  After his work in the TV series American Soul, where he played Don Cornelius, Walls has proven that he can handle the rock.

With the sudden passing of Lance Reddick this year, his role as Kamal’s sickly father, Benji in this film seems tragically prophetic. Combined with his performance in John Wick 4 earlier this year, every time we have seen Reddick seems to be more and more special.  It almost seems like a fourth wall break to see him suffer on screen in this film knowing what happens in real life.  It is not known whether this is his last performance (he has six other projects in various stages of completion listed on IMDB) but this one hurt the heart watching.

Rated R for perverse language and some drug material, White Men Can’t Jump is much better than expected.  It is a shame that they used the same name because it is not the same film. If unburdened from comparison, this comedy delivers well on its own, an enjoyable and mildly entertaining romp.

White Men Can’t Jump can be seen on Hulu.

Grade:  B