The best sports movie director of recent times, Ron Shelton, who gave us “Tin Cup,” “Bull Durham” and 1992’s “White Men Can’t Jump,” developed one rule for casting such films after the efforts it took to make a certain future Oscar winner look like an actual major league pitching prospect in his breakout film, “Bull Durham.”
“They’ve got to be able to ‘play.'”
That doesn’t seem to have tripped-up the director who goes by “Calmatic” and the stars of the remake of “White Men Can’t Jump.” Sinqua Walls was a convincing footballer on TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” and singer and composer Jack Harlow has a credible jump shot.
A lot of rehearsal and some sympathetic editing and they’re perfectly credible as a new version of a salt-and-pepper LA street-hoops hustling duo.
But lacking real chemistry — Harlow’s never acted in a movie before — and with little of the witty way with banter and amusing showmanship of the original film, this re-imagining of Shelton’s work — which had Wesley Snipes at his flamboyant, mouthiest best and Woody Harrelson as his slow-talking lesser half of a hoops dream team — is flat-footed, pretty much start to finish.
And lest we let the players take all the heat, the Grammy winning music video director Calmatic also remade a “House Party” that no one wanted to see, especially critics.
The story’s been changed, giving one baller, Kamal (Walls) a troubled back-story to explain hy he’s pushing 30 and “never made it,” and a now-sickly Dad (the late Lance Reddick) who pushed him. The “white man” half is a Gonzaga alum who still has NBA dreams, a bum knee and a juice-cleanse/meditator shtick that’s almost funny.
But the stakes seem both lower and more serious. There’s no Rosie Perez, training for “Jeopardy” glory and raising her voice to a pitch only dogs can hear when her man messes up. The hustlers hustling each other bits are lacking and the supporting “players” (Myles Bullock, Vince Staples) have less amusing characters and less amusing lines to play.
There’s no delusional Kadeem Hardison, no hardball-roundball hustler akin to the original film’s Cylk Cozart.
Here, the broke white guy is a would-be influencer nerd named Jeremy who drives his dancer-choreographer girlfriend’s (Laura Harrier) Porsche. Kamal and wife Imani (Teyani Taylor) have a family and dreams, and he has a delivery truck driving job and anger management issues, on and off the court.
Outdoor court locations from the original film are recycled, but the lean, clean “This could be our big payday” tournament is diluted with multiple tourneys. A white NBA star is set up as a “meh” villain.
The insults include “I don’t wanna take your money, gentrifier” and “Hope you can shoot, Sherman Oaks.”
Wake me when you’re done, kids.
Here’s what works. Harlow is very good at playing the passive aggressive trash-talker who zeroes in on other player’s on-and-off-court insecurities in semi-subtle ways.
“I’m like the P.T. Anderson (“There Will be Blood”) of basketball psychological warfare.”
And there’s no sense in countering that with “Spike” is a better filmmaker.
“Spike isn’t even a good KNICKS fan!”
But take away the point-by-point comparison, even accepting the jump shots and backdoor cuts on the court, this remake still never gets off the ground.
Harlow may be funnier in other (smaller) roles, and Walls may have other chances to play the straight man. But there is no “Woody and Wesley” four-films-together future for these two.
And if Calmatic wants a movie making career, maybe it’s time to turn down remakes.
Rating: R for profanity, and some drug content
Cast: Sinqua Walls, Jack Harlow, Laura Harrier, Teyana Taylor and Lance Reddick.
Credits: Directed by Calmatic, scripted by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall, based on the Ron Shelton script for the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.”
A 20th Century/Hulu release.