White Men Can’t Jump – #1 in the US (Mar. 26-29)
All-Time Domestic & Worldwide $76,253,806
White Men Can’t Jump delivers a slam dunk to remain the best of the best in sports cinema.
Ball is life.
That’s what it felt like in the 90s. Though I was born into the world in 1992, I still remember how huge basketball was in that decade. It felt like an unstoppable wave of superstar athletes coming onto the court. In 1992 alone, there was a bevy of greats. Scottie Pippen, Gary Payton, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and, of course, Michael Jordan. Basketball was in its heyday and showed no signs of stopping. There’s a reason Space Jam happened. Both to capitalize on the popularity of the sport and to show us an example of why we should not cast professional athletes in films. Basketball is my favorite sport, right next to baseball. I still love it to this day. Kurtis Blow echoed these sentiments back in the ridiculous yet awesome rap tune “Basketball” from 1984.
White Men Can’t Jump exemplifies this to a T. It’s all about streetball hustling, but also about the players behind it. This film also packs a trio of stars. Wesley Snipes was already a star thanks to his fabulous turn as Wille Mays Hayes in Major League and the villainous Nino Brown in the hood classic New Jack City. Woody Harrelson was known to everyone who watched Cheers. Rosie Perez was known for Do the Right Thing being Mookie’s girlfriend Tina. She was also the three-time (!) Emmy-nominated choreographer for the Fly Girls on In Living Color. White Men Can’t Jump would make Harrelson and Perez become cinema breakouts.
In Venice Beach, Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) comes across Sydney Doyle (Snipes). They challenge one another on the court, with Hoyle meaning and hustling him out of money. Sydney finds out where Billy lives at the motel with his girlfriend Gloria. Billy and Gloria are on the run away from the Stucci brothers who they owe money for a busted lemon of a car. Sydney and Billy decided to team up to run a hustling scheme in streetball to garner some money to pay off the debts. Meanwhile, Gloria is studying away in hopes of getting on Jeopardy! to make money as well. The duo of Sydney and Billy becomes a dynamic duo of streetball hustling but almost fizzle out when some money gets displaced. Now, forced to be partners on the court, they develop a bond that cannot break on or off the court.
I adore this movie. It seems etched in stone to basketball fans as mandatory viewing. Director and writer Ron Shelton wrote a dynamic story of great characters that are believable and in reality. Shelton before did the wonderful baseball film Bull Durham. Like that film before this one, it’s all about the characters. Snipes and Harrelson are perfectly cast in their roles. Snipes is quick with the insults, the intensity, and the humor. He’s dynamic in the way he lays out the truth and how he thrives on the hustling life. Snipes is so damn great to watch on-screen with charisma dripping out of his pores. For the ‘92 Cinema Revue, this won’t be the last time we review a classic of Snipes’s filmography.
Harrelson’s performance captures Billy being a down-on-his-luck type with brilliant skill on the court. Yet, there is an edge there with him constantly being bad with money and only focused on his goals while Gloria takes a back seat. He does love her though, but what he does to her, there’s a reason heartbreak occurs in the film. He also is stubborn whenever called out for being white or his style on the court. Snipes pushes his buttons, and Harrelson reacts in kind. After all, “white men can’t jump” as Sydney tells him. He plays off of Snipes well keeping up with his insults and skill. Their back and forth over music is dynamite with clear tensions between them that is clear.
I have the biggest crush on Rosie Perez in general. Her turn as Gloria is so filled with life and passion that it’s hard not to be invested in her character’s Jeopardy! Journey. She’s studying countless trivia facts, oddball topics, and learns new facts all the time. That journey (spoilers ahead) has a delightful payoff by seeing her live it out in the film complete with a mustached Alex Trebek. It’s the best Jeopardy! has ever looked on screen, even by today’s standards. Gloria is also funny as heck and takes no shit from anyone. She teaches Billy about being more sympathetic through a conversation about water. She is ready to throw hands with Sydney’s wife Rhonda (Tyra Farrell) over her money being hustled away. Perez nails the role by being as real as real can be. God bless that beautiful woman. I’m still smitten.
The dialogue in the movie is quick-witted and fast as hell. Everyone is ready to throw an arsenal of jokes, jabs, and all the expletives you can ever serve. If it was a word featured in George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” it’s in the script on full display. It’s also hilarious throughout. One of my favorite bits is when Sydney and Billy hustle a player named Raymond. Raymond is played by legendary Milwaukee Bucks player Marques Johnson. Raymond tries to get money by robbing a liquor store complete with a gun and ski mask. The owner recognizes him immediately and Raymond sells him the gun for money for about $275. “Shit, now you’re robbing me!” Raymond replies. It’s a howl of laughter from me still.
Having this film revolve around the world of streetball also helps it stand out. If it was professional sports, it wouldn’t have the same impact. Focusing on the hustle of streetball makes Sydney and Billy’s journeys more compelling. They get by on odd jobs and hustling to make ends meet. They are staying in mid-tier apartments and dingy motels. There’s always a struggle to get by in the world. I will relate more to the regular person than an NBA player in the lap of luxury. Stakes are much higher in the streets than on the court of an NBA franchise team.
White Men Can’t Jump remains above the rim in the world of basketball films. The duo of Snipes and Harrelson helps to craft this film into the classic it is. Perez is near-perfect as Gloria and the heart of the film. Basketball may take a back seat at times, but it is what brings the characters closer together. It brings us in with the love for the sport and leaves us with a great time to remember once we get off the court it presents. No wonder Stanley Kubrick loved it.
Revue Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next week, April showers come to town in the form of dog slobber. It’s a battle between a beloved St. Bernard and beloved actor Charles Grodin. We roll on over with Beethoven.
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