1 of 5 | Sinqua Walls (L) and Jack Harlow star in the remake of "White Men Can't Jump." Photo courtesy of Hulu
LOS ANGELES, May 18 (UPI) -- White Men Can't Jump, on Hulu on Friday, seems more intent on recreating the '90s than exploring how much things have changed. It's not like the 1992 original left no room for improvement, but the remake has far fewer laughs.
Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls) was a hot NBA prospect in 2010. Ten years later, Kamal is playing pickup games at the local gym where Jeremy (Jack Harlow) hawks his detox drink.
When Jeremy beats Kamal in a free-throw contest, Kamal realizes they could team up to win a local competition for prize money they both need. This sometimes involves hustling for money to pay the entry fees, but the hustle is a minor element in this story.
Right away, writers Kenya Barris and Doug Hall make it clear they won't shy away from the sort of language that permeated the Ron Shelton original. Characters use R-rated dialogue on and off the court.
Some of the music is explicit, too, although the soundtrack favors '90s artists like Tag Team, Sublime and Skee-Lo more frequently. The '90s focus is unfortunately fitting, as the new film does little to evolve the premise.
Jeremy pays some lip service to the idea that stereotypes against white men's basketball skills are outdated. The film's determination to dodge racial dynamics is especially odd given that they are inherent in the title.
Jeremy makes some ignorant comments about the Black experience and uses casual racism to trash-talk opponents on the court. The remake interrogates actual racism far less than the original, where even listening to Jimi Hendrix became racially charged.
Most of the comedy in the original White Men Can't Jump came from the trash talk between players on the court. To believe insults would make opponents miss their shots, the insults have to be far more clever than this.
How relevant are Richard Simmons jokes in 2023? Jeremy makes fun of one player with large ears and says another looks like Malcolm X, so set the expectations for humor accordingly.
Some of the basketball court confrontations escalate far beyond the roughhousing in the 1992 movies. They make Kamal and Jeremy's efforts more dangerous, raising the stakes, if not the humor.
The new film adds more backstory to the characters. Kamal's NBA dreams were cut short by an outburst on the court, and his commitment to caring for his ailing father, Benji (Lance Reddick).
Jeremy has a knee injury and hopes stem cell treatments can restore him. Until then, he is short on cash for gym fees and even parking fees.
The women fare better in this iteration of White Men Can't Jump. Kamal's wife, Imani (Teyana Taylor), has a hairdressing business, and they are raising a son together.
Jeremy's girlfriend, Tatiana (Laura Harrier), is strong enough to both support Jeremy's endeavors, but be firm when he needs to fulfill his responsibilities. Fortunately, neither woman resorts to going on Jeopardy!, the original film's most bizarre subplot.
Jeremy's knee injury makes each game more fraught as it does still flare up. Kamal's baggage with his father adds some layers to what's holding him back on the court, but neither make the movie funny.
Some scenes simply pause so supporting characters can banter with unfunny improvisations.
The 1992 White Men Can't Jump caught lightning in a bottle with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson on the rise in a sports comedy audiences responded to. The 2023 remake doesn't justify its existence beyond the fact that people still play basketball.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.