Some movies just stay with you, especially if you watched them as a kid. And while I was just 9 years old when this movie came out, I watched it numerous times throughout the nineties. And each time was a lot of fun. After an almost twenty-year hiatus, I decided to give it one more go last night. And here are the results. White Men Can’t Jump is a charming buddy sports comedy that even those who don’t like basketball are going to love. We will be following two guys, one white and one black, who form a strange partnership to make some money. So, the entire movie has this positive racial dimension you simply cannot ignore.
As a white man who can’t jump, I cannot describe how much I wanted to be Billy Hoyle. A white chump who steps onto a basketball court and shows he’s got skills. He passes and he scores and he makes some friends and he makes some enemies. And then he trash talks and then he trash talks some more. Seriously, I think that White Men Can’t Jump is a movie featuring the most “yo mama” jokes in the entire movie history. The chemistry between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson was freaking phenomenal. And once you throw in Rosie Perez in the mix you get one hell of a cast.
It’s also fun to look at the supporting cast as it consists of a couple of former NBA players. The older guy in purple spandex is Ron Beals, the man who invented the jump shot while playing at Loyola in the ’59-’60 season. Gary Payton of his Seattle SuperSonics fame also appears as one of the players. And finally, we also have Marques Johnson (Bucks, Clippers, and Warriors) playing the role of Raymond. Yeah, he’s that guy who has to “go to get something from his glovebox”. And yeah, he’s a natural. Wesley and Woody trained hard for their roles and it fucking shows.
However, I have to admit that White Men Can’t Jump does feel a bit naive some thirty years later. There’s also a bit of overacting and messy transitions but nothing that would spoil your viewing pleasure in any major way. It’s interesting how I didn’t realize or see these things when I was younger. To make up for them, writer and director Ron Shelton offers a realistic script full of realistic characters and a great ending. It might not be the one you were hoping for but it sends a powerful message about life.
Billy Hoyle is a young loser hustling his way through life. He’s also a talented basketball player who uses his appearance to trick others and take their money. One of those guys was Sidney Deane, a hard-working man who sees something more in Billy. He sees a business opportunity. And with a huge basketball tournament coming up, the timing is perfect. However, it would appear that Billy Hoyle is a man who just keeps getting into trouble and Sidney is no better than him…
It would appear that the nineties were the decade of basketball movies. We got not only this one but also Above The Rim, Hoop Dreams, and He Got Game. Not to mention all the college basketball movies and hits like Space Jam, oddities like Eddie and classics like Celtic Pride. Did you forget about that one where Whoopi Goldberg becomes a coach for the New York Knicks? However, none of them are quite like White Men Can’t Jump. They don’t have the same street atmosphere and all those juicy slow motion shots.
The same can be said of the 2023 remake that has almost none of the gritty charm of the original. The original that somehow captured the entire spirit of the nineties in about ninety minutes. Especially if you played basketball back then.
Director: Ron Shelton
Writer: Ron Shelton
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell, Eloy Casados, Ernest Harden Jr.
Fun Facts: Woody Harrelson was much better on the basketball court than Wesley Snipes. Both of them worked under the supervision of Bob Lanier, former Detroit Pistons player.