Review: The new ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ has some game but falls short of original

Sinqua Walls, left, and Jack Harlow in the movie "White Men Can't Jump."

‘White Men Can’t Jump’

The idea of remaking a one-of-a-kind classic like Ron Shelton’s hit 1992 comedy “White Men Can’t Jump” raises all kinds of questions. No. 1: “Why?” No. 2: “No, seriously, why?” And then, once the incredulity fades: “Is something here actually ripe for revision?”

Co-written by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall — and directed by Calmatic — the new “White Men Can’t Jump” carries over one big aspect from the original but updates it for 2023. Jack Harlow plays Jeremy, a broken-down former college hoops star who hustles for money on the pick-up courts, using his sleepy vibe and constant chatter to irritate his opponents. Sinqua Walls plays Kamal, a former high school phenom who washed out due to anger issues and family problems. Just like the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in the original movie, these two team up for a street-ball tournament with a big cash prize; and while honing their game around various Los Angeles neighborhoods, they bicker about sports, life and race.

That frank, funny banter appears to be the part of the original “White Men Can’t Jump” that appealed most to Barris and Hall; and to their credit, the filmmakers and their cast give the dialogue their own spin, with references and racial barbs updated for the modern, more multiracial NBA. Barris and Hall also earn points for retaining Shelton’s emphasis on the heroes’ money woes, making it clear that each loss for these guys stings for reasons beyond macho pride.


But while the new version works fine on its own merits, compared to Shelton’s film the storytelling feels too labored. Jeremy’s and Kamal’s romantic partners (played by Laura Harrier and Teyana Taylor, respectively) are shoehorned into the picture, as is Lance Reddick (in one of his final roles) as Kamal’s ailing father. The supporting characters are meant to provide some explanations for the two men’s poor life choices — while in Shelton’s film the reason was simply “dudes will be dudes.” While trying to make the original’s free-flowing, frequently surprising plot fit into a more conventional screenplay arc, Barris and Hall have sapped a lot of its vitality. The new version may be more current, but the old one rings more true.

‘White Men Can’t Jump.’ R, for pervasive language and some drug material. 1 hour, 41 minutes. Available on Hulu

Calmatic has directed memorable music videos for Kendrick Lamar and Lil Nas X. This year, he made his film debut with ‘House Party’ and ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’

May 17, 2023

‘The Thief Collector’

In 1985, one of the paintings from Willem de Kooning’s famous mid-1950s “Woman” series disappeared from the University of Arizona Museum of Art, sliced out of its frame by thieves who went undetected and uncaptured. In 2017, that painting was discovered in a small New Mexico town, hanging in the bedroom of schoolteachers Jerry and Rita Alter, after both had died. None of their friends or family members had ever known anything about the heist; but after the news broke, these acquaintances started thinking about how the Alters’ lives never quite made sense. The couple’s extensive, expensive world travels — and Jerry’s hobby of writing semiautobiographical stories about adventurous antiheroes — raised eyebrows.

Allison Otto’s snappy documentary “The Thief Collector” ponders how and why the Alters got away with their one famous crime — and perhaps many more. Did they steal other art? Did they have torrid affairs? Did they murder a man and bury him in a septic tank? Otto has actors Glenn Howerton and Sarah Minnich playing Jerry and Rita in periodic dramatizations of their real lives and in adaptations of Jerry’s wild stories, blurring the line between what may have actually happened and what Jerry fictionalized. This is a beguiling film about two people so charming and disarming that no one suspected them of anything shady when they were alive — although now that they’re gone, the Alters’ many mysteries have the allure of great art.

‘The Thief Collector.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 36 minutes. Available on VOD

‘Giving Birth to a Butterfly’

Writer-director Theodore Schaefer’s art-film “Giving Birth to a Butterfly” has an eye-catching look, its images contained within a tight frame with rounded corners, like pictures in a photo album. It also has an ear-catching sound, with nearly every cast member delivering outrageous lines in flat tones, like the characters in a David Lynch movie. Schaefer and co-writer Patrick Lawler have taken a slight plot — about a stressed-out suburbanite named Diane (Annie Parisse) who goes on a road trip with her son’s pregnant girlfriend, Marlene (Gus Birney), to get her savings back from an online scammer — and filled it with eccentric characters, such as Diane’s deluded wannabe chef husband, Daryl (Paul Sparks), and a set of elderly twins both named Nina (Judith Roberts). But while “Giving Birth to a Butterfly” is admirably odd, its ideas and approach never quite gel. The film is essentially about Diane’s dissatisfaction with her go-nowhere job and demanding family, but the surreal touches only occasionally underscore those feelings. More often, the weirdness and affectations seem gratuitous. Even for a movie meant to be offbeat, the rhythm is jarringly askew.


‘Giving Birth to a Butterfly.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 17 minutes. Available on VOD

Also on VOD

“Outpost” is the feature directing debut of veteran comic actor Joe Lo Truglio, who has gone against type to make a psychological horror film. His wife, Beth Dover, plays an abuse survivor who tries to improve her life and her mental health by taking a job at a remote park ranger station. Lo Truglio fills the smaller roles with accomplished actors like Dylan Baker, Becky Ann Baker, Dallas Roberts and Ato Essandoh, though most of the movie is focused tightly on Dover, whose skittish character has trouble determining whether she’s imagining threats out in the Idaho forest or if someone really is after her. Available on VOD