White Men Can’t Jump – Chemistry
It seems fitting that we are a few weeks into the NBA season, as well as NCAA Basketball just getting underway, that we finally post a review about something basketball oriented. While football gets most of the glory, cinema-wise, there are a handful of decent b-ball films. Most people will automatically name “Hoosiers” as the best in the genre, if not one of the best and most inspiring sports films of all-time. I tend to disagree. While “Hoosiers” is all well and good, and features a drunk Dennis Hopper, it’s the classic underdog story that has been done to death, so to me, it kind of looses it’s shine after nearly 30 years.
When I think of a basketball film it always comes back to one of the first films I ever saw on HBO back in the early 1990’s, and that would be “White Men Can’t Jump.” It’s the Ron Shelton-directed flick that made basketball fun and not some inspirational true story. However, I’m sure a lot of white guys can relate to going to an outdoor basketball court, getting crap from a Wesley Snipes-like player, and eventually embarrassing them with a cross-over and a fade away jumper. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those players. Think of ME as Dennis Hopper in “Hoosiers.”
Like most Shelton films, “Jump” deals with misfits who become endearing to the audience. While he’s gone outside of the sports realm with mixed results, see “Hollywood Homicide” as a prime example, his wheelhouse has always been how sports can be romantic and bring people to common ground. “Jump” tells the story of two hustlers who constantly try to out hustle each other. Woody Harrelson plays Billy Hoyle, a former college basketball player on the run with his Jeopardy-loving girlfriend, Gloria, played by Rosie Perez, still enjoying her 15-minutes of fame. Hoyle meets Sidney Deane, Wesley Snipes’ best role outside of “Blade,” a braggadocious street ball player with aspirations of escaping the inner-city. The irony of Deane is his love for the street, while still trying to escape it and do what he needs for his family, which is really at the heart of the film. Despite the fact that Hoyle and Deane are always trying to one-up each other and hustle each other, there always seems to be a mutual respect between them. What I like to pretend sometimes is that “Money Train” is a direct sequel to “Jump” and Jennifer Lopez takes over as Rosie Perez’s character.
“Jump” is in the vein of Shelton’s other sports films, namely “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup.” The characters feel lived in and the chemistry between Harrelson and Snipes is undeniable. There are times when you think they hate each other, and the next minute you think they are the best of friends. It feels like the same relationship “Nuke” LaLoosh and Crash Davis had in “Durham.” Whether how much of the dialogue between Hoyle and Deane was ad-libbed, it feels authentic and something you would normally hear during any pick-up game, anywhere.
There are a few weak points to “Jump.” Rosie Perez, if you’ve seen her in any movie, can become quite grating after a while. I don’t know if it’s the voice, the accent, or simply both, but after hearing “Beeeeleeeee!!” about 100 times you’ll want to take a charge from Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer at the same time. Does that sound a little too erotic? There is also the subplot of Billy and Gloria being on the run from two gangsters looking for money. It’s a little weak, and doesn’t add much to the story as a whole.
While some of the characters and story elements are lacking, as a whole, “Jump” is still great, and while the fashion has been left in the past, the film has aged incredibly well. The jokes are still funny (I mean who doesn’t appreciated a well crafted “Yo Mama” joke) and they took a sport that was lacking any real cinematic flare, and gave it some. I know I’ll hear crap about this from “Hoosiers” purists, but c’mon! Oh, we can’t forget that any self-respecting basketball player always goes to Sizzler after a game, just ask Dwyane Wayne.
Fun Fact: Duane Martin, who played Willie in this film, was also a baller in 1994’s “Above the Rim.”