REVIEW: ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Reboots, remakes, requels, revivals and legacy sequels have carved out quite a niche in Hollywood. 2022 put Robert Pattinson in the cowl and Tom Cruise back in the cockpit as Maverick 36 years later. 2023 has already rolled out a superior Super Mario Bros. film, a new installment in the Evil Dead franchise, a requel sequel in Scream VI and will see a live-action The Little Mermaid, Timothee Chalamet bring Willy Wonka back to the screen and Harrison Ford back in action as Indiana Jones 15 years after his last big-screen adventure. Lost in the shuffle of all those big tentpoles films is a retelling of the 1986 classic White Men Can’t Jump and while it may not have been on your radar, you’ll want to add it to your list.

Directed by L.A.-born and raised Calmatic, 2023’s White Men Can’t Jump smartly avoids one of the biggest pitfalls that too often plague remakes: trying to actually remake the original film. Calmatic, who cut his filmmaking teeth in the world of music videos, describes the film not as a remake but as “sampling” of the 1986 original in which he made bits of the classic feel new and familiar. Given the 1986 version starred two Hollywood icons in Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, Calmatic’s choice to create two original characters who could capture the spirit of the original film’s odd couple dynamic with modern sensibilities gave his film a chance to stand on its own…and it certainly does. Sinqua Walls‘ Kamal and Jack Harlow‘s Jeremy don’t have to be Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle because 37 years later, why would they be? So while the name of the game remains the same–hustling the streetball circuit of L.A.–the players come complete with modern glow ups that give the film a foundation of heart and soul beneath the humor.

(L-R): Jack Harlow as Jeremy and Sinqua Walls as Kamal in 20th Century Studios’ WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by Parrish Lewis. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

And while the film and its actors exhibit plenty of range, White Men Can’t Jump is simply a good time. Walls and Harlow share an easy chemistry that allows the comedy between the two to feel as natural as their on-court game. Myles Bullock and Vince Staples, who play Walls‘ Kamal’s buddies Renzo and Speedy, might not add much in the way of support on the court but more than fill their roles as additional comedic relief. Laura Harrier and Teyana Taylor, the partners of Harlow’s Jeremy and Walls‘ Kamal, respectively, may not get quite enough to do–and neither gets as much to do as Rosie Perez’s memorable Gloria in the 1986 film–but certainly help fill out who Jeremy and Kamal are. Given what the film sets out to accomplish in its modest 101-minute runtime, the bulk of it is understandably focused on developing its co-leads. So much so that not even the great Lance Reddick, in one of his final performances, gets much to do. Ultimately, however, the focus on Jeremy and Kamal pays off as both Harlow and Walls give solid individual performances but truly shine when their together.

Hulu’s White Men Can’t Jump works in such a way that fans of the 1986 film will find resonance in Calmatic’s sampling and those who have never seen the original will find plenty to enjoy. Whether revisiting the courts of Venice Beach, recreating the original film’s “Rodney” scene with a flamethrower or giving Kamal an origin that would never have fit in 1986, Calmatic didn’t miss with his directorial choices. As one of my top five favorite Pistons always said, “Ball don’t lie.” White Men Can’t Jump should be on your list of 2023 re-whatevers.

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