Every time Lance Reddick appeared in White Men Can’t Jump, my heart ached a little. Reddick, a solid character actor of our time, has been in so many popular things, from Lost to John Wick, and no matter how the movie or show has turned out to be, the man has always nailed his parts. This movie, which is his first posthumous release of many, is no exception either, where Reddick pretty much nails it as the worn-out dad of one of the two main leads. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about White Men Can’t Jump.
Let me be very clear: I am not against remakes. In fact, I do like the idea of reimagining stories in different contexts. Not every single piece of art needs to be wholly original. But when you are remaking something like White Men Can’t Jump, a widely admired basketball comedy from the nineties, then you at least need to put something on the table to match it if you can’t top it. Calmatic’s remake fails to do any of that and feels like a half-hearted attempt.
While the movie goes wrong in every single department, the biggest issue here is the casting. I have nothing against either Jack Harlow or Sinqua Walls, and considering they were up against the Oscar duo of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, they were never expected to win, even if the movie was better. But while Harrelson and Snipes are probably two of the most charismatic actors ever to be on screen, the Harlow-Walls duo is like a zero-charm blackhole. I am not even exaggerating here, as a movie like this one particularly relies a lot on its lead stars for scoring points. It is them who we are supposed to root for, and their triumph at the end of the movie is what we are supposed to be happy about, but none of that can happen if we aren’t invested enough in their plight. I might sound harsh, but I didn’t watch the movie with the agenda of criticizing it. On the contrary, I was low-key excited about the assignment, as I have fond memories of watching the original many years ago. Sadly, what I saw was another profound example of Hollywood’s incessant urge to remake a beloved classic from the eighties or nineties, tarnishing the original’s legacy.
Obviously, the choice to cast Harlow and Walls is not the only reason the movie fails to soar. The extremely generic screenplay is probably equally responsible here. I appreciate when remakes try to infuse some of their own fresh ideas by tweaking the original story, but in the case of this one, the changes not only don’t work, they actually destroy any chance of the movie being good. I would say if they had followed the 1992 movie in a rather frame-by-frame manner, things would have turned out better. The original movie not only had the absolutely right actors playing the part, but it also had a story edgy enough to hold the audience to the end. There were lots of twists, turns, and unpredictability; all seamlessly blended into a perfectly entertaining experience for the public. The makers might argue here that it is not possible to do things the exact same way because we live in a much different world, which is true. I actually liked how the director tried to include things like viral videos, TilTok, and modern-day music, which gave the movie a sense of relevance. But it would have mattered if he had put some work into creating an interesting subplot and developing the characters. For example, in the original movie, the character of Gloria, who was the girlfriend of Harrelson’s character, had a very important role and was very much associated with the main plot. But here, the counterpart named Tatiana appears to be a one-note character who is not on board with her partner’s basketball endeavors for the whole movie but ends up accepting his marriage proposal in the end. Sorry if I have just spoiled the movie for you, but trust me, it wouldn’t matter at all if you chose to give it a watch. Not to mention, Harrelson’s character doesn’t end up with the girlfriend in the original movie, which actually makes a lot of sense. But here, everything gets sorted and good—like an early episode of Ted Lasso.
Even if I consider that Calmatic was actually trying for a conventionally happy ending, leading him to opt for the mush, it still baffles me that someone would voluntarily choose to embrace mediocrity when they have a pre-set example of something better in their hands. This brings me to share something strange that I found out while writing this review. The director, Calmatic, is also responsible for delivering the very underwhelming remake of another nineties classic, the 1990 comedy House Party. Does the director have a twisted thing for churning out mediocre remakes of 1990s classics? Now that I am unfortunate enough to have sat through both of Calmatic’s works as a filmmaker I would probably suggest that he get back to making music videos and commercials, something he is actually good at.
It would be wrong of me to label Calmatic’s White Men Can’t Jump a complete waste, though. With my scant knowledge about the game, I thought the basketball bits of the movie were choreographed really well. I have already mentioned Lance Reddick being in his usual element. Normally I would have probably cringed at the random name-dropping of auteurs like Spike Lee and PTA, but here I actually didn’t mind it. Lee being one of the cinematic inspirations of Calmatic, makes for a strong case here. And at the end of the day, I can hug Calmatic for declaring Paul Thomas Anderson the best living director in the world and effectively proving him to be a believer in PTA supremacy. I really hope he gets lucky with whatever he does next, whether it is a remake or something of his own.