The idea of recreating the chemistry of Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson from the original White Men Can’t Jump is such a staggering feat that I would never envy anyone for having to take on. And from the moment this remake was announced, I was sure that the film wouldn’t work or be as culturally relevant as the original was when it was released; it still stands the test of time to this day. Calmatic’s White Men Can’t Jump feels like it knows about all of these expectations as it begins, and instead of trying to either be a beat-for-beat remake or a completely thematically different film, it opts for retelling the broad strokes through the lens of the 2020s. However, the base-plot of two talented young basketball players teaming up to potentially make money together is still at the core of this film.
White Men Can’t Jump serves as one of the biggest surprises of the year so far for me. This isn’t to say it’s a great film and I wouldn’t put it near the same quality as the original film, but I was really impressed by how much I laughed and surprisingly cared about the characters by the end. Jack Harlow’s casting is something I was a bit dubious about going into the film due to his lack of acting credits, but he honestly fits the role pretty well considering how the character of Jeremy is written. Sinqua Walls really shines here as Kamal, however, as he entirely serves as the heart of the film and does a lot of the heavy-lifting when the film opts to become more dramatic and serious at times. While it’s nowhere near the same level as that of Snipes and Harrelson from the original film, they actually have some really unique chemistry and comradery with one-another by the end.
In terms of the supporting cast, I also thought a lot of these supporting players did a lot of heavily-lifting and serve as a reason as to why the film works at all in the first place. Laura Harrier and Teyana Taylor both play the partners of each of the respective main characters, and I thought they both added a lot to the film – which wisely makes an effort to left us get to know not only their basketball skills, but also how their day-to-day life is and why winning this tournament is so important to them. In addition to this, Vince Staples and Myles Bullock as Kamal’s close friends serve as some really solid comedic relief, and Lance Reddick shines in one of his final roles – he truly has a really emotional moment here that will remind you how much of a talent he was, and how lucky we were to see him perform as well as he did.
Another surprising element to this version of White Men Can’t Jump was how well-directed it was at points from director Calmatic. I feel like a lot of films about basketball don’t really know how to properly shoot the sport so that the audience can get enthralled in the same way they would as if they were watching a real-life basketball match, but Calmatic really knows how to shoot these sequences. Especially towards the end as a lot more ends up being at stake for the main characters, I found these sequences to be really enthralling with energetic camera-work and pure clarity that helps the audience know exactly where every character is on the court at any-given point. On top of this, the film just generally has a pretty nice visual style that makes it stand-out a bit.
While there are quite a bit of things to compliment White Men Can’t Jump such as its surprising amount of heart and some really well-directed and fun sequences, there is still a bit of feeling throughout that it is pretty predictable and fairly generic. It never feels like it’s taking many risks or liberties with the story, and while that is certainly fine, I think it does hold it back from any potential it has from being a classic in its own right. Still, however, the film remains to be a genuinely entertaining film that surprised me with how much care it has for its characters and genuine love it has for basketball as a sport.