'White Men Can't Jump' review: Modern day Jack Harlow led remake is far from baller
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Hulu
An airless, Disneyfied remake meant to jumpstart rapper Jack Harlow’s acting career, the modern day spin of “White Men Can’t Jump” makes for a pretty lousy game of basketball. Worse, it’s not very funny either. While I was one of the few defenders of Calmatic’s other ‘90s remake from earlier this year, “House Party,” that movie was far from a critical darling, and the former music video director struggles to convey the themes and energy of the Woody Harrleson/Wesley Snipes original. At the very least, even if the OG wasn’t hailed as a classic, falling back on two likable stars helped it endure a memorable legacy. The same can’t be said for Harlow and his co-star Sinqua Walls who don’t play real characters. They’re just put on camera to deliver mediocre punchlines about race in America.
For a movie called “White Men Can’t Jump,” the movie doesn’t explore the racial divide of white and Black players in a meaningful way nor does it make an argument that white people can’t ball (another indicator this remake should’ve stayed on the sidelines). Harlow plays Jeremy, an endearing charmer who hustles as a trainer on and off the court trying to make ends meet after a torn ACL kept him from going pro, and Walls is Kamal, a former high-level NBA prospect who threw away his shot after a slew of violent outbursts pegged him a major liability.
That’s about the extent screenwriters Kenya Barris and Doug Hall will go in exploring the pillars of their personal and mental injuries, and instead forces the two into an alliance (mind you, these guys would never form such a treaty) where they’ll become a dynamic hoops duo and maybe win a prestigious basketball tourney that pays upwards of $500k, so Kamal can get his career back on track and Jeremy can invest in experimental stem cell therapy.
A montage of Jeremy and Kamal playing the streets and amassing enough cash for the entry fee ensues, but the script forces silly ideologies out of nowhere and without context. Jeremy, for one, is written like a history lesson on white and Black relations, spewing jargon about everything from “Malcolm X” to Christopher Colombus while poor Kamal figures out ways to respond. Except he can’t and is doomed from the start. We get it Jeremy, you want to be friends with Kamal. But this ain’t it.
Rounding out the cast is the late Lance Riddick, about the only good thing in the film, playing Kamal’s supportive father with an illness that’s half-heartedly inserted into the plot; Teyana Taylor playing Kamal’s partner Imani, who runs a salon out of their small LA apartment; and Laura Harrier as Tatiana, Jeremy’s choreographer girlfriend who is given zero characterization or personality. Much like the basketball sequences that are supposed to be the heart and soul of the movie.
Instead, “White Men Can’t Jump” reverts to tasteless gags about characters who are dating “fat white bitches,” welfare, and dozens of other mean-spirited and off color humor while also trying to squeeze every ounce from the unremarkable father/son plot in the last thirty minutes. It never gets there despite Harlow showing an occasional spark that hints he could have an acting career if paired with the right filmmakers. He shoots, but, like the rest of the movie, can’t quite sink the bucket.
WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP is now streaming on Hulu.