Ron Shelton’s 1992 sports film White Men Can’t Jump is a classic. Hulu’s newly released remake of the same name, meanwhile, is an airball. The new comedy distills everything great about the original movie into an uninspired, unnecessary retelling.
2023’s White Men Can’t Jump is directed by Calmatic, who was also recently behind House Party‘s remake. The remake, which hit Hulu on Friday, stars Jack Harlow in his acting debut as Jeremy, an annoying and cocky personal trainer that believes he is the second coming of Steve Nash despite having two blown ACLs. Together with former high school legend Kamal Allen (Sinqua Wells), Jeremy hustles streetball players in gyms across Los Angeles.
The film has as much personality as a deflated basketball, with uninspired storytelling leading to a stale product. Shelton’s film was able to embrace its imperfections and its setting, resulting in a kinetic and fun movie that instantly creates a connection between viewer and character. Its sly interrogation of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes’ characters results in an engaging flick where every beat, every game has more than meets the eye.
1992’s White Man Can’t Jump is full of charm and personality, but it’s also a smart film. With indelible performances from the Snipes and Harrelson alongside well-executed sports scenes, the movie has bite as both a sports comedy and as social commentary. Its story of a white man and a Black man hustling basketball players on the streets of Los Angeles took on racial conventions directly, calling attention to its subject matter from the title itself.
Instead of presenting Snipes’ streetball phenom Sidney Deane as a down-on-his-luck Black man stuck in a cycle of exploitation and greed, it showed him as a caring father working tirelessly to take care of his family. Meanwhile, Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle is stuck in a circle of self-destruction as he gambles away his money and loses his loving girlfriend Gloria, played by a hilariously charismatic Rosie Perez.
The cast and performances from the original movie took that film to new heights. An especially memorable performance from Snipes proved him to be one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood, and it’s difficult to see how anyone can fill those shoes. Unfortunately, the remake’s script simply fails its characters and its actors. Worse, it lacks the relevance the original still has today.
It seems that director Calmatic took all of the wrong lessons from Shelton’s original work. The new movie constantly pokes fun at how the original movie’s racial dynamics are outdated, pointing out that everybody seems to know now that white men, can in fact, jump. Choices like these minimize the stereotypes and assumptions that the original film played upon to great effect. Instead of creating intriguing characters paired with lively filmmaking choices, the movie offers half-hearted jokes that tend to fall flat. The emotional and story beats don’t work for numerous reasons, including the heinous misuse of Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier’s characters.
The remake begs its viewers to wonder why, exactly, it even exists. Any great remake tends to have a new “take” on the original material. They don’t repurpose and plagiarize the original material, but they instead prove that they, too, have a head on their shoulders. With 2023’s White Men Can’t Jump, it takes a magnifying glass to find what Calmatic is trying to say.
The only true modernization of the text comes in the simplest of fashions. Instead of exchanging cash on the streets, Jeremy accepts Venmo or Zelle. Instead of jerseys of Magic Johnson, players talk about Ja Morant or James Harden. The music is modern, Jeremy walks with an NPR tote bag, et cetera et cetera. However, the film never stops to consider how dynamics such as those between Billy and Sidney or Jeremy and Kamal have evolved. It doesn’t present an original take on White Men Can’t Jump; it dresses up the original in exceedingly duller modern clothes.
No, the original movie is not perfect, and it’s entirely fair to consider some of its politics as a bit outdated. However, it’s still an engaging movie and a time capsule of a certain kind of filmmaking, one where a movie knows exactly what it is. This remake does not, and it suffers for it.
Viewers have long derided that “they don’t make them like they used to” or “there are no original stories anymore.” Remakes and legacy sequels are all the rave, and it’s a safe bet to assume that most of your classic favorites have or will be examined for their franchise appeal. It’s easy to understand those feelings when they are being validated by movies like this.
I’m sure there’s a way to do a White Men Can’t Jump remake in an interesting manner that captures even 50% of the energy of the original. This film, though, shoots about 20% from behind the free-throw line.