By John Daniel Quinto Tangalin
Where to stream it? Hulu (premieres on Friday, May 19th)
Starring: Sinqua Walls, Jack Harlow, Teyana Taylor, Laura Harrier, Myles Bullock, Vince Staples, Lance Reddick, Anthony Hamilton
Written by: Kenya Barris & Doug Hall
Story by: Barris, Hall, & Ron Shelton
Directed by: Calmatic
Intro: Calmatic's White Men Can't Jump Review
One thing that Calmatic's White Men Can't Jump gets wrong is the end credits crediting Ron Shelton's film as being released in 1991. In fact, the original film starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson was released in March 1992. Other than that, Calmatic's current retelling is solid work. Calmatic's House Party and Kenya Barris's You People — both released earlier this year — are challenging watches in terms of delivering their respective messages. However, the two men construct a compelling cinematic experience in this collaborative project.
White Men Can't Jump consists of the same main narrative beats and conflicts as the early-1990s film. The original emphasized gambling more as an addiction. On my first watch of this newer version, I noted a focus on its protagonists making ends meet in other ways to avoid financial struggle and how these means affect relationships amongst its characters. However, during my second watch, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Los Angeles' Lebenswelt
Shelton's film concentrated on both Sidney Deane (Snipes) and Billy Hoyle's (Harrelson) dynamic as well as on the latter's relationship with his romantic partner. Now, there is a wider network of relations, ranging from Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls) and his father, Benji (Lance Reddick); Allen and his professional environment; with his wife, Imani (Teyana Taylor); Allen's friends, Renzo (Myles Bullock) and Speedy (Vince Staples); Jeremy (Jack Harlow) and his partner, Tatiana (Laura Harrier); and most importantly, between Kamal and Jeremy. There is a reason why one is struggling to provide for his family whereas the other — wait for it — is a white man who cannot jump. 2023's White Men Can't Jump, then, is a narrative about attempting to strike a balance in the ecospheres, both individual and collective.
On one hand, Renzo and Speedy weigh into the levity of the comedic end of the film. Two instances of the former holding up a bag of Frito-Lay chips throws me off. They scream, “PRODUCT PLACEMENT”, as if to tease Hulu's upcoming Flamin' Hot. White Men Can't Jump also marks Staples's second live-action character role, and I could see him transform into a huge actor a la Ice Cube. The late Lance Reddick appears in the opening scene but does not make a full on-screen appearance until the second act. While his screentime is brief, the actor parallels his character in a way that drives home the film's primary emotional punch.
Calmatic's film pops through Tomas Voth's production designs of basketball courts, a gym, households, and a cookout. The set pieces in White Men Can't Jump are vivid and lively. Not every thing is black and white like the disparity between the film's two major skin tones. Even costume designer Neishea Lemle and team's outfits enhance locations' personalities as if characters of their own. Tatiana's cut-out long-sleeve with a formal top to match, Kamal's “birthday” tee, Imani's braids-and-bucket-hat combo, and a character's interesting choice of a literal trash bag as a top — there need not question every context.
Additionally, music supervisor Gabe Hilfer's selections for the soundtrack are consist of excellent picks. Ab-Soul's “Hollandaise” via introduction title card sequence is a neat opener. Then other Californian music artists appear, from Fatlip, to Hieroglyphics, to Skee-Lo, to War, to Sublime, to Anderson .Paak. With the contributions of solo artists and groups exterior to the state, including Ari Lennox, SZA, Xzibit, and Dreamville, White Men Can't Jump‘s soundtrack simply has good quality jams. They are not exactly on Insecure‘s level. Still, the film puts the music editors to work, and I would definitely add these artists' songs to a playlist!
Performances and Character Development
White Men Can't Jump is not without remarkable performances from Walls and Harlow, whose chemistry is merit-worthy to a degree. I found that what they have on-screen together is reminiscent of Snipes and Harrelson. Akin to Snipes, Walls is down-to-earth, yet what makes Kamal different is his domestic milieu. His background is revealed as the film progresses. That would be sufficient, but then I would have loved to know more about his wife. While Harlow is as wise-cracking as Harrelson, he was a tad less sweet and more comedic in delivery. His performance in the film cements this as the basketball 8 Mile. Like Staples, I would like to see more roles from him.
Tatiana and Imani have a bit more to do than Rosie Perez's Gloria in '92. Both are women characters without whom the men would be nothing, whereas Sidney tells Billy he could live without Gloria. Taylor's Imani is the cathartic personification of ethos. She answers the question of whether a certain protagonist will find therapy of some kind. Harrier's Tatiana is lovely as always, but does not have as much screentime.
Final Thoughts: White Men Can't Jump Review
Overall, White Men Can't Jump is a worthy remake full of meaning. However, it could have benefited from a longer runtime. With that, it could flesh out more of the characters' individual and collective stories.