Jack Harlow and Sinqua Walls trash talk and play ball in this remake that shares little in common with the 1992 original.
Plot: Multi-platinum rap superstar Jack Harlow makes his big-screen debut as Jeremy, a former star of the game whose injuries stalled his career, and Sinqua Walls stars as Kamal, once a promising player who derailed his own future in the sport. Juggling tenuous relationships, financial pressures and serious internal struggles, the two ballers—opposites who are seemingly miles apart—find they might have more in common than they imagined possible.
Review: When White Men Can’t Jump was released in 1992, it came at a time when basketball was viewed much differently than it had been decades prior. The chemistry between Woody Harrelson’s unexpected baller and Wesley Snipes’ experienced player made for a mismatch that would work in their favor as Ron Shelton’s movie became a box office hit. Three decades later, White Men Can’t Jump gets a contemporary update as streamers continue to mine their IP. While the remake boasts music star Jack Harlow and the benefit of Kenya Barris on the screenplay, the new White Men Can’t Jump shares very little in common with the original film outside of the racially mismatched stars learning to play as teammates rather than adversaries.
Directed by Calmatic, who helmed this year’s reboot of House Party, the new White Men Can’t Jump comes from a story co-created by the original film’s director, Ron Shelton. The new protagonists are Jeremy (Jack Harlow), a former Gonzaga basketball player who is struggling to try and make it to the NBA despite double knee surgeries, and Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls), a hot prospect who lost his opportunity to be a star after being arrested his senior year. Jeremy and Kamal play pick-up games in their spare time: Jeremy makes some money training players while Kamal works as a delivery driver. Both men see an opportunity to make money but must first get past their very different approaches to the game. Jeremy also must contend with his physical limitations while Kamal deals with anger issues he has had since he was a teenager.
Over the course of the film, we get to know a little more about the personal lives of the two players. Jeremy is dating Tatiana (Laura Harrier), a dancer, but also is regularly popping pills to keep his aching knees under control. Kamal is married to Imani (Teyana Taylor), an aspiring hairstylist, but barely makes ends meet as he supports her and his son. He also cares for his father, Benji Allen (the late Lance Reddick), a former player who is now suffering from MS. At first, Kamal and his friends Speedy (Vince Staples) and Renzo (Myles Bullock) are reluctant to let Jeremy play and discount him for being white. Still, the joke about race quickly fades away as part of the film’s plot. Instead, most of the time is spent focused on Kamal’s redemption as he learns to quell his anger issues thanks to Jeremy’s holistic approach via meditation and herbal remedies.
This new version of White Men Can’t Jump focuses a lot less on the differences between Jeremy and Kamal and plays more like a traditional comeback sports movie. Jack Harlow is good and holds his own in the basketball scenes but is even better as the trash-talking newcomer. Harlow barely seems to be playing a character but instead just a thinly veiled take on himself. At first, the story seems pretty balanced between the two players. Still, Kamal’s storyline continues to take precedence as Jeremy serves more as a plot device than a parallel character arc. Jeremy’s reliance on painkillers and his side hustles seem important at the start of the movie, but by the end, I wondered if they served any purpose but to flesh his character out. Sinqua Walls does good work channeling Kamal’s anger and resentment, but there do not seem to be many other emotions on display here. Aside from Lance Reddick’s Benji, almost none of the other supporting characters get that much screen time.
From a basketball perspective, we get a good mix of trash-talking pick-up games and two tournaments, one 2-on-2 and the other 3-on-3. The games themselves never really feel that important, with the pressure barely building into anything significant. I remember being on the edge of my seat for the final game in the 1992 film, but in this update, there never seems to be any doubt that the games will go in any direction other than where they go. Calmatic’s direction is more mature than I expected, with this film peppering in funny moments here and there but instead aiming for a far more dramatic take on the material. Both Laura Harrier and Teyana Taylor are underutilized, and no one really breaks out here as Rosie Perez did in the original film. Myles Bullock and Vince Staples come close to being highlights, but Kenya Barris and Doug Hall’s script seems far more focused on sharing as little in common with the 1992 film aside from the basic concept of a Black and a White player teaming up to play basketball.
White Men Can’t Jump doesn’t have nearly the star power as the original film but manages to still evoke solid performances from Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow. Some are funny moments, and others are more dramatic than I anticipated. Still, all of it amounts to a film that never capitalizes on the dynamic that drove the first movie to be such a hit with audiences. Instead, this is a collection of basketball sequences that should have been much more energetic and a story that deserved a little more depth. Had this movie been released under a different title, it may have gone completely unnoticed. As it stands, this movie shares virtually nothing in common with the 1992 movie and could have stood to replicate the energy that Ron Shelton’s film had in abundance. Basketball fans know now that white men can jump, but this remake cannot.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/white-men-cant-jump-review/