The 1992 sports comedy “White Man Can’t Jump,” written and directed by Ron Shelton, was a cheeky, provocative film that took a raucously skewed view of race relations and street ball. It’s a well-liked film, but not so immortal that the prospect of a remake would inspire thoughts of sacrilege.
So this film, directed by Calmatic from a script by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall, feels less like a desecration than a missed opportunity. And as missed opportunities go, it’s pretty serious.
The pickup basketball partners here are the rapper Jack Harlow as Jeremy, who is white, and the actor Sinqua Walls as Kamal, who is Black. Kamal was a promising high-school player whose downfall is revealed through gradual flashbacks. Jeremy has two blown-out knees, a painkiller addiction and a burgeoning reputation as a con artist. Both have the standard-issue “strong women” in their lives, and both are constant disappointments to these women.
In the 1992 picture, lead actors Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes were animated enough to make you believe they could leap right out of the frame. Their female foil was played by Rosie Perez, and her subplot — involving her becoming a contestant on the TV quiz show “Jeopardy!” — was one of the film’s many quirky delights.
This version has little quirk and less spark. While Harlow is a game and capable comedic performer up to a point — he demonstrated as much when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” last year — he doesn’t have Harrelson’s near-anarchic unpredictability. And Walls, while appealing, can’t get within striking distance of Snipes’ intensity.
The script by Barris and Hall, both veterans of the television sitcom “Black-ish,” does the actors no favors. A scene in which Jeremy brings a bottle of Hennessey brandy to Kamal’s kid’s birthday party, hoping to show off his “authenticity” with respect to Black tastes in booze, is meant to be funny. One could see how it might be; but it falls awkwardly flat. And try this on for exposition: “My girl’s a crazy talented choreographer who’s wasting her time teaching classes at a dance studio because my income’s so shaky right now.” Thanks for the update, Jeremy.
Near the end of the movie, Kamal’s father, Benji, played by the spectacularly talented Lance Reddick, has to deliver this stilted line to his son from a hospital bed: “My biggest regret is not giving you the tools to work through your problems.”
The supposed trash-talk that Kamal and Jeremy exchange throughout, sometimes good-naturedly and sometimes in earnest, is similarly uninspired. By the time we get to the second half of the narrative, the movie has completely abandoned the sometimes near-screwball comedy of the Shelton film and pivoted to triumph-over-adversity drama, complete with big-money games the duo can’t resist, despite the odds against them. The basketball action is similar to the script, that is, indifferently staged and shot. This movie not only doesn’t jump, it barely gets off the couch.
White Men Can’t Jump
Rated R for, what else, language. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. Watch on Hulu.