When you watch the remake of 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump, you will find out the premise is not so much tied to the title. The trope of a white guy being good at basketball has continued to change with players like Luka Doncic (who the film mentions) – so it’s not as fresh as a comedy premise back in 2023. There’s a scene in the film where both main characters go to an open run to make money and immediately try to double back and say, “There are too many white guys here.” So at least, director Calmatic and writers Kenya Barris and Doug Hall can’t trace the playbook that Wesley Snipes and Woodly Harrison followed.
Instead, the 2023 version looks at two young men with a chip on their shoulders for their prior hoop dreams being taken away from there. Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls) was a highly touted basketball prospect out of high school with a trajectory to make it to the NBA someday. Behind him, he has his father, Benji (Lance Reddick), who helps cultivate Kamal’s skills and is his number one supporter. An unfortunate incident at an away game where Kamal’s anger leads him to go Malace In The Palace on a heckler puts a stop to all his promise. He’s working a minimum-wage job at a UPS equivalent, trying to save money to help his girlfriend, Imani (Teyana Taylor), get her hair salon as she takes clients in their apartment.
On the flip side, Jeremy (Jack Harlow) was a promising prospect that played at Gonzaga until he tore both ACLs. He spends his days selling 30-day detox drinks and coaches up-and-comers in a gym he manages to skip paying a membership fee for. At the heart of everything, Jeremy aspires for one last shot at stardom – using painkillers while looking for G League tryouts. At the same time, his girlfriend Tatiana (Laura Harrier) teaches at a dance studio to make ends meet. At the center of White Men Can’t Jump are two tournaments – one is a two on two league to make $25,000. If you make it through, you get entry into a three-on-three contest where the grand prize is $500,000.
So, the stage is set for these two men to come together and overcome their obvious differences – much like the fashion in the original. Referring to what I said earlier, this premise is not fresh. Thus, Barris and Hall try to finagle some comedic value in different racial dynamics (there’s an ongoing gag about liking Ed Sheeran’s music). While some of these don’t hit the mark as well, Vince Staples and Myles Bullock help many of the laughter move forward as Kamal’s childhood friends Speedy and Renzo.
Harlow and Walls’s characters form a better bond based on their personalities. Before games, Jeremy meditates, and Kamal still struggles with the anger festering inside from that one incident. Bridges like this are a bit more satisfying to see come together. As White Men Can’t Jump moves forward, it dives more into the redemptive beats, which work to some degree. There’s a relationship on the line – but not in the fashion that somebody has a debt owed to the mob – the 2023 version aims to target lightheartedness in that respect. It’s more about second chances and how the love of a sport and family help elevate all that. The supporting cast, from Taylor, Harrier, and Reddick, all add flavor to this notion.
While some scenes are obvious homages to the 1992 predecessor, Calmatic’s White Men Can’t Jump doesn’t strive to be a carbon copy of that time – and it really can’t. The premise doesn’t call for it, and much of the subtext was based around a white former college b-baller not being able to dunk until the end. What exists is a watchable remake with a modern coat of paint.