White Men Can't Jump at 25: No Remake Necessary
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Earlier this year a bit of outrage was birthed into the world. Hollywood, known for its constant regurgitation of once-original ideas, had decided that it was time to remake White Men Can’t Jump, a film that celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this week.
Black-ish creator Kenya Barris would be writing the script. Blake Griffin and Ryan Khalil, two athletes turned future moguls, were going to help produce it. This isn’t a terrible idea, though. People consider White Men Can’t Jump a cult classic. It banked more than $75 million in its theatrical run, good to be the 16th-highest-grossing film of 1992. It even spawned a video game for the Atari Jaguar (spoiler: It wasn't good). Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson are pretty much shoo-ins for the non-actual-athlete wing of the Basketball Movie Hall of Fame, and they're without question the go-to practitioners of the back-door cut.
It doesn’t need a remake.
A lot of the nuance from the film, from the “Yo Momma” jokes to the cultural revelation both social and economic that was Jeopardy and the racial dynamics of black vs. white basketball players, is such a 1992 thing. And both Snipes and Harrelson, two actors who were both on equal billing in terms of career ascendence, were naturally charismatic and genuine friends. There probably aren’t two interracial beings with that kind of chemistry, and I doubt we’ll get it when Zac Efron and The Rock team up for Baywatch. Except, Jeopardy is still a thing, so there's that.
Even the main argument of the movie has been disproven by numerous dunkers from Brent Barry to Gordon Hayward to current Ted Cruz look-alike Grayson Allen. We're good here.
On the surface, a film about the art of the hustle and the intrinsic dynamics of such had already been made (Paul Newman’s Academy Award-winning turn as “Fast” Eddie Felson in The Color of Money). A film about two degenerates who chase the high of the dollar for different reasons has been made consistently throughout Hollywood history. The interracial buddy dynamic was perfected in Mel Brooks’ Blazin’ Saddles. A film where the lead female character is infinitely smarter than everybody else may have been done before but not to the extent to which Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) did with Gloria Clemente (a show-stealing Rosie Perez). White Men Can’t Jump is a cultural timestamp that deserves to be left alone, even if a lot of it happened by pure accident.
Weird Factoid No. 1: Denzel and Keanu could have been Sidney and Billy.
In a 2012 oral history for Grantland, writer-director Shelton revealed that the two actors he initially had in mind for Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle were Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves. Only two problems. One, Denzel was signed on to play Malcolm X in a role that would define his career. Two, Keanu Reeves couldn’t play basketball. At all. “He wasn’t athletic enough,” Shelton admitted. Another player from the film, Cylk Cozart, put it even more bluntly: “Keanu almost broke my neck going up for a layup.”
Imagine that. Imagine Denzel trying to look at Keanu and not laugh every time he tried a jump shot. Or dunk. He couldn’t tap into his John Wick powers so it would really be Ted from Bill & Ted attempting to not look like a scrub. Terrible. It would be another six years before Denzel did give us a basketball movie with He Got Game, and he managed to be not only a convincing dad but also somebody who could realistically lose 11-3 to Ray freakin’ Allen.
Weird Factoid No. 2: Kadeem Hardison has never been to Sizzler.
Hardison originally auditioned to play Sidney Deane, but Snipes got the part. So he settled for a bit role as Junior, the Bobby Heenan to Deane’s Rick Rude. All of the one-liners and Yo Momma jokes? Hardison cribbed those from his good friends up in New York, namely Biz Markie. Even though he couldn’t get his best one out, there is one scene pivotal to the film: the scene that isn’t Billy Hoyle finally dunking the basketball (on a lowered rim) to win the city tournament.
During his initial hustle, Billy trades jumpers with Sidney, who ignores the cardinal rule of basketball along racial lines, being able to shoot is more about precision than flat-out athleticism (eff you, John Stockton). After Sidney gets on a roll, Hardison dances and yells, “We’re goin’ Sizzler.” Ultimately, Deane misses a jumper and there’s no Sizzler. Well, Hardison admitted earlier this month, to Michael Smith on the SC6 podcast, that he’d never been to Sizzler. Around the 54-minute mark, Hardison tells it. “Never in my life,” he says. Smith responds incredulously: “Wait, what?! That’s an injustice!”
Weird Factoid No. 3: A UCLA Legend Is a Terrible Barterer
A few ringers co-starred in White Men Can’t Jump, none more subtle than UCLA legend Marques Johnson. Johnson not only won the Wooden Award as the nation’s best college basketball player in 1977, he won an NCAA title in 1975, the last of John Wooden’s ten rings. He once averaged 25 a game for the Bucks. He’s also a terrible barterer. As Raymond, that’s Johnson trying to hold up a liquor store just to make a bet. “I gotta go to the glove compartment,” is an homage to Shelton’s retelling of how a guy got shot and killed near his main court before writing the movie.
Somehow, Raymond is too recognizable to even rob the store. He argues to sell the gun he was going to use in the robbery for $500 but settles for $250…to ultimately lose. Let that be a lesson. Gun sales at liquor stores don’t ever go the way you think they will.
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