"White Men Can't Jump"(1992) Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
In a sport that is predominantly occupied by tall, black men, it's hard to find white men who are successful in basketball. This is the preconception when Woody Harrelson's Billy Hoyle steps onto the court with Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and his friends. After he hustles Deane and his friends, it paints the image to not judge someone by their cover, which is also portrayed throughout their use of witty dialogue and hilarious scenarios throughout Ron Shelton's 1992 film.
After Billy shows what he can do in the opening sequence of "White Men Can't Jump", him and Sidney decide to form a partnership, where they will work together to hustle as many people as they can on the basketball court. However, due to them not trusting themselves very much, they decide to double-cross each other and hustle themselves out of tons of money.
The first half of this film is hilarious and lots of fun. Harrelson and Snipes have fantastic chemistry together, and they really suit the roles perfectly. From their attitude to the way they talk to their outfits and how they present themselves, the duo really embody these characters and leave it all out on the screen and the basketball court. Consider the opening scene, where Billy beats Sidney in a shoot-off that the latter was sure he would win. Their entire conversation and body language is hilarious and easily sets up these characters for the rest of the movie.
However, the two men aren''t just playing basketball for fun or to win the money for themselves. They both have personal reasons at home for why they play and hustle so much. For Billy, it's his beautiful girlfriend Gloria (Rosie Perez), who is hoping she can one day win big on the hit game show, Jeopardy. However, they are on the run from the cruel Stucci brothers, who Billy owes a debt to. Sidney, on the other hand, just wants to provide a better life for him and his wife and kids, as they currently live in the rough Baldwin Village. Each man has their own want and need for this money while hustling, even if both don't realize it right away.
When we do get in the second half of the film, it seems like the movie completely changes the tone of what it had already set up. Some films work really well here, showing a change in characters throughout the plot by switching up the tone. But I really don't think it works here. The second half is honestly very depressing and a downer, relying more on cheesy emotional strategies rather than the comedy they expertly used in the first part of this movie. I think the filmmakers are trying to make us feel bad for the characters, but it just comes off as a downer.
The movie also contains some aspects that are just way too cheesy for even comedy movies. Consider the scene where Sidney double crosses Billy and makes him lose most of his money. Now knowing Gloria is going to be very upset with him, Billy walks off defeated, with his head held down and his shoulders hunched. Now, I get it if this only lasts for a couple of seconds, but they literally show a two-minute scene of him walking like this back home. It is more hilarious than it is sad, capturing the wrong emotion from the viewer. The movie is great at making the audience laugh, but if they wanted them to feel genuine sadness for the character, I don't think it works here.
While this movie is an enjoyable comedy to watch for the most part, I think there are certain aspects here that don't fully hit the mark. While it doesn't make it a comedic masterpiece, and far from being one of the best comedy movies, I do think it is quite enjoyable and contains hilarious performances from Snipes and Harrelson.