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‘White Men Can’t Jump’ is missing a crucial ingredient

Peter Iovino
© 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved

The last thing you’d expect from a movie called White Men Can’t Jump is a lack of confidence. I say this, of course, because you undoubtedly remember Ron Shelton’s 1992 basketball comedy and how much it was bursting with confidence, bravado, and bluster, turned up even more by the unreal charisma of its stars, Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, and Rosie Perez.

We now have a remake of that movie, one that uses the same title, but one that both focuses its story on lacking confidence, and seems, as a movie, to be missing that quality itself. In this version, we have Kamal, who is a former high school star whose path was derailed after he was arrested following a fight at a game, and who now throws his weight around pickup games at the Y. Kamal is still quite good, but he doesn’t really believe he’s got enough to ever play any meaningful basketball again. His counterpart is Jeremy, who lightly hustles Kamal by making a few stationary shots in a row, and whose knees are junk.

Like a lot of movies today, this one doesn’t have the confidence to let its humor arise from the characters and situations presented, and instead relies on gimmicks, such as the fact that Jeremy does yoga and has a foolproof detox regimen he tries to sell to people, and Kamal’s boss sells cupcakes made with marijuana. The story lacks confidence, too, in that it sort of follows the original, but none of it happens naturally—Kamal literally walks up to Jeremy and says, paraphrasing, “We should play in a tournament together but first we should hustle some guys to make the money for the entry fee.” Why? Well, because that’s the thing that needs to happen for the movie to go on. Kamal then repeats his idea multiple times through other scenes, because I guess we can’t be trusted to understand what’s happening here.

It's all amiable enough, nothing here is really unpleasant, but there’s no edge, no energy, no cockiness. And that’s a crucial part of what made the original movie so much fun. That movie had the electricity of a playoff game. This one is about as memorable as a scrimmage.

White Men Can’t Jump is on Hulu May 19th.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.