When word spread that the beloved 1992 Ron Shelton streetball and race relations classic White Men Can’t Jump was getting a streaming-era remake, a collective groan could be heard across the internet from purist lovers of buddy sports comedies, basketball, and film.
The film, directed by Calmatic (aka Charles Kidd II, previously a director of music videos who also helmed a House Party remake released back in January), sadly proves its skeptics right. The original White Men Can’t Jump is a one-joke premise: What if a white guy preyed on the assumptions about the lack of white athleticism to hustle his way through the pick-up hoops courts of Los Angeles? Yet that broad premise contains within it human stories, of begrudging friendship, finding love at the wrong time in life, and what it means to mature into adulthood. The remake is limp and hollow in every respect, especially compared to its source material, and particularly in terms of its depictions of the actual basketball.
Shelton’s classic, shot wide, and in long takes, revels in the beats, in the joy of actually playing the game. Stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson are clearly having a great time, and their obvious joy is contagious. In the remake, Jack Harlow had one stunt double, and co-star Sinqua Walls had two. Both appear to have gotten ample work, as the one aspect the new White Men Can’t Jump is masterful in is blocking. The majority of the basketball is shot from behind, in tight, aggressively clipped shots that are all money and no process.
The original depicts approximately seven games, with 38 points, a three-point contest, and a dunk contest. Each game plays out as its own narrative with its own arc, with several possessions depicted basically in full–their own mini-stories existing unto themselves.
The remake has approximately 14 games, showing 28 points, also with a three-point contest (with a runtime ten minutes shorter than its source). Most games are communicated through a single point scored, with a heavily edited few seconds of the end of a play, of a jump shot or layup, followed by Harlow counting money.
Putting aside from the craft or lack thereof in either film, we wanted to run the numbers. So GQ is putting on a pair of Adam Sandler’s ridiculously baggy basketball shorts, posting up in the gym, and scouting the four primary protagonists in both films, assigning NBA Jam attributes to each in an attempt to evaluate which team would win in a head-to-head fantasy showdown.
Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes, 1992)
SPEED: 10 POWER: 6
3PTS: 6 STEAL: 2
DUNK: 8 BLOCK: 0
PASS: 9 CLTCH: 3
Wesley Snipes isn’t a talented or practiced basketball player, and his style of play in the original White Men Can’t Jump is full of unnecessary flair and absurd feints, which Shelton films in gratuitous slo-mo,. Snipes spends much of the movie perfecting a midget Hakeem Olajuwon impression that has aged poorly. But he’s not unathletic. For one, he’s ripped. As Sidney Deane, he’s an extremely quick, small (5’9) combo guard in the mold of the great Nate Robinson. He lives for Globe-Trotterish hot dog plays, and is a willing passer. But neither Billy, Sidney, or really anyone in the first film plays any serious defense. Sidney blows his three-point shootout with Billy after he can’t take the trash talk he’s been dishing out. He throws a game to fuck Billy out of his buy-in, so it’d be hard to call him clutch, but he’s still an asset to a two-man streetball team when he’s committed to actually winning.
Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson)
SPEED: 3 POWER: 2
3PTS: 10 STEAL: 1
DUNK: 2 BLOCK: 0
PASS: 8 CLTCH: 3
Billy is Mr. Fundamentals. His great attribute is that he’s a knockdown shooter. Despite the fact that he and Sidney primarily play a dueling banjos form of iso in the original film (Harlow and Walls play more pick and roll) Hoyle is a solid passer, in the Rick Barry mode of the shorter (5’10) point forward. His handle isn’t bad, but he’s not athletic. He runs like the 30ish-year-old actor he was during the filming of White Men Can’t Jump. Because his shot is automatic, Billy is the most clutch player in this particular matchup—unless you need him to dunk on command. The problem is Billy’s hands. He can basically get up, but he can’t dunk off the bounce, which requires palming and cramming. He can, and does, win the final game in the original film with an oop, catching in the air with both hands.
Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls, 2023)
SPEED: 9 POWER: 10
3PTS: 6 STEAL: 7
DUNK: 10 BLOCK: 8
PASS: 5 CLTCH: 6
I’d never seen former University of San Francisco basketball player turned actor Sinqua Walls before, but he’s an instantly compelling screen presence who seems destined for bigger things if he can just find material up to the level of his talent. As it stands, we don’t get to see much of Walls actually balling. We’re told he’s a selfish player that needs to rely on his teammates more (which he does instantly with Jack Harlow’s Jeremy for reasons that are never fully explained). He has anger issues and can snap in a moment’s notice, which makes him, like Sidney, difficult to rely on, and thus not clutch.. To release all that pent up aggression, he gets his aggravation out with hellacious, dunk contest monster jams in empty gyms. And he’s a fucking beast, by far the best athlete in this matchup– sort of a Baron Davis type, charitably speaking.
Jeremy (Jack Harlow, 2023)
SPEED: 3 POWER: 2
3PTS: 10 STEAL: 6
DUNK: 3 BLOCK: 0
PASS: 8 CLTCH: 3
The big surprise of the film is Harlow’s Jeremy. Harlow is, somewhat shockingly, a charming and naturalistic actor, pretty adept at being himself (and a decent ball player). Jeremy is a former Gonzaga basketball player with substance abuse issues who blew out both of his knees but dreams of making the G-League. He also makes weird and awkward race jokes. But this compilation of traits doesn’t add up to an actual person, and the film is in such a hurry to get from one beat to the next that most of these qualities are briefly introduced, then left undeveloped and returned to again. Like Billy Hoyle, Jeremy’s main skill is his shooting, but he’s a decent all-around player. We get abbreviated clips of him finishing some reverse layups, and he’s tall (exactly how tall is up for debate.) Because of his injury history his knees are unreliable and we can’t reasonably call him clutch, and he plays some defense but not much. Call him a shorter Mike Miller.
Verdict: While Wesley and Woody would lose to Sinqua and Jack, Billy and Sidney would beat up on Jeremy and Kamal. Of course they would. We don’t get to see enough unedited play from either character in the reboot to give a scout worth their salt any reason to buy them as a cohesive unit capable of taking on the famous odd couple of whom we saw ten times as much in-game footage.. In the White Men Can’t Jump remake, when you call a foul, you have to shoot for it. When it happens, the players repeat one of the game’s oldest refrains and great truisms: The Ball Don’t Lie.