More than 31 years after Ron Shelton's movie White Men Can't Jump was released in 1992, starring Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson and Rosie Perez, director Calmatic has brought us a reimagined version of the story with Jack Harlow, Sinqua Walls, Teyana Taylor and Laura Harrier (now on Disney+ in Canada, Hulu in the U.S.).
Calmatic doesn't call this a remake. At a press conference ahead of the film's release he described it by saying he "sampled" the movie. That included using some of the same locations, like Venice Beach and Watts Towers, but the director stressed that it was really all about representing Los Angeles in a way that we don't often get to see on screen.
"I feel like, especially in ... Hollywood, you see LA presented in so many different ways, but being someone who lives here I'm like, there's a whole LA that the world hasn't seen yet," Calmatic said during the virtual press conference. "It's the LA I grew up in. It's also a very influential part of LA that hasn't been seen yet."
"Just the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we play basketball. ... I think for me, it's really just about showing the world my LA and how I see it."
What is 'White Men Can't Jump' about?
For this 2023 version of White Men Can't Jump, music superstar Harlow makes his feature film debut as Jeremy, a former Gonzaga basketball player whose career was stunted with knee injuries. Walls plays Kamal, once a top prospect for a promising professional basketball career. He now delivers packages in LA, but people in the neighbourhood remind him of his sort of "fall from grace."
Jeremy shows up at the local gym, hocking some detox drinks, and seeing his skill, Kamal urges Jeremy to team up for a two-on-two tournament to make some serious cash. But first, they have to hustle in some local games to make enough money to enter the tournament.
'I feel like I arrived into a egoless environment'
With Harlow stepping into his first big screen role, the rapper turned actor praised the cast and crew of White Men Can't Jump for making him feel included and comfortable working on the film.
"I'm thankful that I joined a group of people that were so humble and willing to let me learn, and be patient with me and be willing to teach," Harlow said. "I feel like I arrived into a egoless environment."
Harlow was also open about how working on White Men Can't Jump was an "escape" for the famed rapper amid his successful music career.
"I had just dropped an album. I was in the whirlwind of the music industry," Harlow said. "So, it was such a beautiful escape from the place I was in."
"I think I needed it mentally and emotionally just to get out of the monotony of music, and it was phenomenal. I mean, every day I looked forward to showing up."
Walls also highlighted Harlow's professionalism on the set of the film, sharing that Harlow called him before they filmed their first scene together, wanting to go over lines. Harlow didn't want the first time they worked together to be they first time they spoke to each other.
"I think that speaks volumes because even though it's his first one, he's really professional and he's really seasoned," Walls said. "[I've] worked in this business for a while, ... I can honestly count on my hand the people that have called me, and he's one of them."
Aside from Harlow, actor Laura Harrier had big shoes to fill as Jeremy's girlfriend Tatiana, based on the character of Gloria in the 1992 film, played by the beloved Rosie Perez.
"It was definitely very big shoes to walk into," Harrier said. "Rosie Perez is an actress I've always looked up to."
"I didn't want to try and do a recreation of what she was doing. I wanted to give Tatiana her own character and her own person, and my own interpretation of who she was. So I think the entire film, we're kind of looking at the original and drawing bits and pieces. But it's definitely its own thing and its own retelling."
Remembering the late Lance Reddick
At the end of the movie, "in memory of Lance Reddick" is written on the screen during the final credits. Reddick played Kamal's father Benji, who battles multiple sclerosis in White Men Can't Jump. Reddick passed away earlier this year.
"When his name came up as an option for Benji, it was like, duh, we gotta go with Lance," Calmatic said. "As soon as we made it official, he came in. We had meetings. He did tons of research on his character ... and he even went to go meet with doctors, and he actually interviewed someone that had that condition."
"As a director, when I'm watching actors perform, I'm always thinking about, OK how can we do that different? ... But after every take I would go in there and I would just be like, 'That was perfect.' ... It's such a shame that he's not here with us, but I think we all, just his presence alone, left an imprint, a great impression on us."