January 28, 2013

White Men Can't Jump (1992)
Starring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, and Rosie Perez

"Sometimes when you win, you really lose.  And sometimes when you lose, you really win.  And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie.  And sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs."  
-Gloria Clemente

"Hey hey man, what's the score? Yo! Chump! I'm talking to you!"

Comments:   White Man Can't Jump is another one of those movies that I wasn't originally intending to put on my countdown of underloved movies.  If you had asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said that no way could you call that movie underrated.  EVERYONE loves White Man Can't Jump.  In fact most people I know would probably rank it in the top twenty sports movies of all time.  Most people I know would say it is the second best basketball movie ever, right behind Hoosiers.

Ah but then I looked around the internet a little bit.  And that is when reality hit me.  

I went to the Internet Movie Database, and I expected to see hundreds of positive comments about White Men Can't Jump.  I figured all I would see would be page after page of people raving about what a funny movie it was.  And what a big deal it was when it came out in 1992.  And how awesome the dialogue and the script were.  I figured this was one of those movies that pretty much everyone loved and remembered.

But according to the IMDB?  According to the permanent record of how every movie will be remembered in history according to the internet?


On the IMDB, there are only 62 user reviews about White Men Can't Jump.  Only 62 people (in more than twenty years!) have had enough of an opinion of this movie to sit down and actually write a review of it.  And that is astounding when you consider what a big deal this movie was when it came out.  Oh, and one of the reviews on the IMDB isn't even a review at all, it is only a joke review.  So now we are down to only 61.

I sat there the other day reading all these reviews, and I was shocked at what a minimal impact White Men Can't Jump seems to have had on the world.  Because you read through the reviews and this is what you see over and over again:

"Why hadn't I ever heard of this movie before?"

"This movie was good, but forgettable."

"I just saw this movie for the first time in 2010.  It looked stupid but it was actually pretty funny."

Oh and here is my favorite:

"My whole life I had heard that this was a bad movie.  I saw it this weekend and it was actually very good.  Why do people say it was bad?"

Well okay.  So this is where we stand at this point in history.  White Men Can't Jump is for some ungodly reason considered a forgotten little relic of the early 90's.  

And I'm sorry, but this shit needs to end right now.


Hands down, White Men Can't Jump is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen in my life.  Hands down.  The story and the acting and the writing are just fantastic.  In fact, you know how Quentin Tarantino is always praised for writing scripts that have amazing dialogue?  You know how he is universally considered the king of movie dialogue these days?  Well I would rank the dialogue in White Men Can't Jump right up there with the dialogue in any Tarantino movie.  Between Wesley Snipes explaining to Woody Harrelson that white people can't "hear" Jimi Hendrix, to Rosie Perez pointing out that sometimes when you ask for a glass of water you only want somebody to acknowledge that you are thirsty, to the eight thousand and one mother jokes and street taunts littered throughout the movie, this is one of those scripts where the writing just jumps out at you and you always remember it.

Wesley:  "You wanna run?"
Woody:  "You mean... play basketball?"

One of my fondest memories of growing up was the day that White Men Can't Jump came out in the early 90's.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday.  And the reason I will always remember it is because of the dialogue.

You see, prior to 1992, a lot of suburban white kids had never actually seen a game of street basketball before.  Oh sure, we might have heard about it.  If you were a white kid growing up in the suburbs you were probably aware that there was a place called Venice Beach, and that people were known to play basketball there.  But prior to White Men Can't Jump, most people had never seen the reality of what a game of street ball in Venice would actually look like.

Then of course the movie came out.

And we saw.  

We saw, and we learned.

Wesley:  (expletive)
Woody: (even worse expletive)
Wesley: (racial slur, mother joke)
Woody:  (racial slur, mother joke, taunt)
Wesley:  (Roy Munson reference)
Woody:  (astronaut insult)

Yes, 1992 was the year that suburban white kids across the land learned how profane a game of basketball could be.  And I have to tell you, it was AMAZING.  It was life changing.  Yes, after 1992, after White Men Can't Jump, all you saw across America were dorky white kids who had never left the suburbs before, and who probably shopped at the Gap, yet who suddenly thought they were street ballers from the mean streets of Venice.  So they would be out there shooting hoops in their driveway with their friends, and they would suddenly have a strut, and they would suddenly be throwing down mother jokes, and everyone would be calling each other a motherfucking astronaut.

Seriously, I will never forget this.  Most of my friends were Mormon growing up.  Little Mormon white kids.  And I can think of no better memory from my childhood than watching my little white LDS friends walking around playing basketball and all of sudden thinking they were all Wesley Snipes.  Only since they played basketball in a church, and because they were Mormon, they weren't allowed to swear.  So the trash talking turned everyone into a "motherforker" or a "motherhecker."

I'm sorry.  That's just funny.

This movie is not LDS friendly

By the way, I have a lot of friends who don't like sports movies.  So I know that a lot of people who are reading this review are going to say "Eh, a basketball movie.  Whatever.  Skip it."

Please don't say that.

If there is one thing that I would like to impart about White Men Can't Jump, if there is one thing I would like to say about it, above anything else, it is that this is NOT specifically a basketball movie.  I mean yeah, a lot of it takes place on a court.  And yeah, there are some really good hoops scenes.  And yeah, a good portion of the movie is dedicated to the question of if caucasians can actually get rim.  But this movie is about FAR more than just basketball.  Like I said before, the script and the dialogue in White Men Can't Jump are just fantastic.  Especially the dialogue.  It is a perfect snapshot of what a cool movie looked like in the early 90's.  

Seriously, when White Men Can't Jump came out, it was the absolute apex of cool.  This was the movie that EVERYONE was talking about.  When White Men Can't Jump came out, it was pretty much the 1992 version of The Fonz.

If the Fonz was a slow white geeky chump

Okay, before I end this review, I have to take a moment to talk about one of my favorite actors of all time, Woody Harrelson.

Woody Harrelson is one of those guys who is funny in everything.  He is funny in EVERYTHING.  Yet you hardly ever notice him because he is so good at what he does.  Woody Harrelson is one of those guys who has been around forever, and he has stolen movies (and TV shows) left and right throughout his career, yet for some reason he has never really gotten any credit for it because you don't really notice him.  I don't know why.  Maybe people just assume that Woody the actor is the same guy as Woody the bartender on Cheers.  Maybe they think that he isn't really acting at all, maybe they think he is just being Woody.

Well Woody Harrelson has long been one of my favorite comedic actors.  And in my opinion he has never been better than he was in White Men Can't Jump.  I mean, people forget, this was one of his first movies ever.  He was still very much considered an unproven commodity.  A lot of people at the time were thinking "Okay yeah, he was funny as a bartender, but why would I want to go watch Woody from Cheers in a movie?  It looks stupid.  He is just playing the exact same character."

"Look at him, look at the backwards hat.  Look at the socks pulled up.  He looks like a chump."


Well I have to say, one of my favorite things about White Men Can't Jump is the way that the screenplay suckers the audience.  Because you think that Woody is playing the same character.  You THINK he is just playing the exact same small town simpleton that he played on Cheers.  

And then you get to that first scene in the movie.

White Men Can't Jump has one of the all time greatest scenes to open a movie.  Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) shows up to the courts in Venice, and he is dressed in full on white guy chump attire.  Backwards hat.  Pulled up socks.  A big dumb goofy grin on his face.  And he just sits there and waits for somebody to notice him.  He sits, and he waits.  And of course, pretty soon the street ballers notice this dork with the backwards hat who thinks that he wants to play basketball.

So they call him onto the court.

And he winds up hustling everyone.

Like I said, it is easily one of my favorite opening scenes in any movie ever.  Woody hustles the street ballers just like Woody the actor hustles the audience.  Yeah, it turns out that Billy Hoyle is a lot more complex and intelligent than he likes to let on.  Sort of like Woody Harrelson is as an actor, if you actually pay attention to him.  White Men Can't Jump was the perfect movie for a guy who played "Woody the idiot bartender" to show that he could transition into a major comedic actor in Hollywood.   A white street ball hustler.  Bet you don't see that a lot in movies.  It was the absolutely perfect role for him.

Any scene with Woody and Wesley trying to one up one another is a classic

Woody Harrelson isn't the only good actor in the movie, of course.  Wesley Snipes (who people forget, was at one time a major Hollywood star, and who is perfect in this) is great too, he is as good as Woody.  And you can't talk about White Men Can't Jump without mentioning Rosie Perez.  Her role as Gloria the street girl who just wants to wind up on Jeopardy is one of those characters that you always remember.

Rosie Perez, minus that voice

And of course who can forget her specialty Jeopardy category of "Foods that start with the letter Q?"

Gloria, who is forever studying the quahog and the quince

In summary, White Men Can't Jump is easily one of my all time favorite sports movies.  In fact I would probably put it in my top 20 movies of the 90's.  And I cannot tell you how astonished I was when I read the IMDB and I realized how few people there are out there who agree with me.  White Man Can't Jump, for whatever reason, has just sort of been forgotten.  There is honestly an entire generation out there who has never even heard of it.

And for a movie that was this big a deal when it originally came out (seriously, this movie was the talk of EVERYONE I knew in 1992, at the time it was as big as Terminator 2 or Silence of the Lambs or Wayne's World), well that is just amazing.

It's hard god damn work bein' this good

Again, White Men Can't Jump isn't really a sports movie.  It is a great comedy movie that just happens to have scenes that involve sports.  There is a big difference.  Calling this a sports movie is like calling Field of Dreams a sports movie.  They both should be remembered as being so much more than that.

White Men Can't Jump was absolutely one of the funniest movies of the early 90's, not to mention one of the most popular movies of the early 90's, and I am absolutely astonished (not to mention a little sad) that I actually have to even point that out.

I just assumed that everyone already knew and loved this movie.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about White Men Can't Jump:

Woody and Wesley when dey was cool - 12 March 2005
Undeniably Hoosiers would get the win, if they ever polled film buffs and critics asking what the best movie is revolving around basketball. Hoosiers, the movie about a failing Indiana high school basketball team being led to success by their new coach played by Gene Hackman and the drunken assistant coach (Dennis Hooper) has enjoyed its fair share of the spotlight. Granted the field of movies about basketball isn't nearly as deep as say movies with plots concerning baseball or boxing, Hoosiers still generally beats out what little competition there is.

However in my opinion the best movie to ever capture the game of hoops is the criminally underrated and underseen White Men Can't Jump, by director Ron Shelton. Shelton also brought us the more popular baseball film Bull Durham and the golf flick Tin Cup. But I'd argue White Men Can't Jump is his centerpiece. The story revolves around two street court b-ball hustlers. One new in town, smooth, and white (Woody Harrelson), undoubtedly to his advantage. The other man, a black, a veteran of the LA courts, and fast-talking (Wesley Snipes). After Harrelson hustles Snipes the two form an unlikely partnership "ebony and ivory" but as always it is on edge and lacks a required amount of trust.

For a film that was released in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots and just before the O.J. Simpson debacle, White Men Can't Jump is surprisingly mature, witty, light hearted and open-minded in its approach to the race issue. Ron Shelton's dialogue is amazingly rapid fire and smart. It bites and certainly has a sting to it, but it's all in good fun. The multi-flamboyant personalities on the outdoor L.A. street courts hustler each other, crack "yo-mama" jokes with one another, and try to look better than the other. This is the movie that really put Wesley Snipes on the map and showed that Woody Harrelson was far more than just another face in the "Cheers" ensemble. Both provide excellent work in not only playing the characters but also learning how to play basketball and talk like actual street hustlers. There's very few standins here. Both Snipes and Harrelson learned to play the sport as well as any actor could be expected to. Rosie Perez is good as Harrelson's annoying and overbearing Puerto Rican girlfriend. If any one word can describe White Men Can't Jump, that word is "fun." The movie tackles serious issues like hustling, family, relationships, race, life in poverty, and gambling debts. However if Robert Rossen's pool hall film The Hustler presented the dark side of the life, Ron Shelton's White Men Can't Jump shows the flip side of the coin. How hustling can be fun and games.

courtship - 22 September 2005
A gritty comedy set in some tough LA neighborhoods about two basketball hustlers, one white (Woody Harrelson), the other black (Wesley Snipes). After hustling each other, they finally team up to play in a tournament, where with a combination of skill and trash talk they defeat the two guys who normally would have left them in the dust. The trash talk gets silly at times, while the subplot of underworld characters who are chasing Harrelson for an unpaid debt seems to be there only to explain logically why he hustles in the first place, as if he would do something else with his life. In any event, the games go from Venice Beach to Watts, and the settings are as good as the stars. Especially so are the cheap motels where Harrelson and girlfriend Rosie Perez have to live, and the inner city apartment where Snipes and his wife Tyra Ferrel call home, all of which adds up to a realistic slice of life at the time, which now seems to look quite a bit different. Intelligently written and well photographed, it has laid in the back of the shelves at countless video stores waiting to be rediscovered.

not really about basketball at all - 11 August 2009
A movie that on the surface appears to be about sport - basketball- has a much deeper undertone if you look closer, a movie that uses the sport as a metaphor for the distinctions between blacks and whites in America. I've always loved this movie, i first saw it many years ago when i was about 14 and felt the wit and chemistry between harrelson and snipes is top notch, now im older i see things i didn't see before. Personally i feel you can take the movie in two ways. you either see it as a buddy comedy or a movie which shows how blacks and whites view each other. the way in which snipes is presented may be a cliché - black man, ultra confident, feels that coz hes black hes better than harrelson - but is this a cliché? most of the black guys in the movie feel that harrelsons character billy is a 'chump', and are quick to put him down. even the movies title 'white men cant jump' is a thinly vieled reference to the viewpoint of black America. this is not a racist perspective, its simply how it is, sidney (snipes) even gets into a discussion with harrelson about jimmy hendrix, about his apparently white drummer and how billy cant listen to hendrix, he can only hear him. billy for his part, uses the fact that hes a white guy to his advantage when he and snipes are hustling. these class colour elements serve to make white men cant jump a far better movie than it is given credit for, and is worth a better look if you think its just another sports comedy.

It's hard being this good - 21 February 2001
Surely you will know of a sandwich shop somewhere in your neighborhood or the city you live in that, when viewed from the outside, holds little promise. There is no way to tell if they sell anything out of the ordinary, to say it is properly decorated would be an insult to the very craft of decorating, the menu is unclear and priced so low it can't be any good and on top of that, the patron doesn't look very inviting. But since it is cold and you're hungry, you go in and order that Daily Special that with a grunt from aforesaid patron is prepared for you. You sit back and take a bite. And then it happens. Wow. How can something this lame looking be this good? This review comes rather late in the day, given the fact that this movie was released already a while back, but every time it's on TV I take a bite and marvel at how bloody entertaining it is. This is no Oscar winner, no earth moving experience, but just proof that an entertaining story might just come careening around some corner you didn't expect it to come from. Don't expect a social commentary on the black 'n white boundaries and life in the ghetto or a senseless showcase of how entertaining great basketball is to look at, although Snipes and Harrelson surely deliver. Be prepared to be taken into the world of a group of characters that do need a little effort to identify with. And see how from the fairly uninviting premise of the blacktop of ghetto basketball courts, two very cocksure basketball hustlers, mating the naive and the somewhat worldwise, a girlfriend obsessed with Jeopardy and the ever so strange ethics involved in wagering bets, a frankly heartwarming story is squeezed, juggling fast-paced and often hilarious dialogue with life-turning -nasty-tricks drama, that is so utterly recognizable that at one point you wish you could hug Harrelson's character. Oh, and play ball like Snipes. There is chemistry here people, both on the funny and the dramatic side, and it's a shame they didn't manage to repeat it on The Money Train. It is brought to the screen using unpretentious, almost nonchalant directing showing a clear love for great ballplay. Don't be deterred by Snipe's recent duds and Harrelson's somewhat beyond-your-grasp acting choices. In the words of Snipe's character, don't listen, but hear. Go rent this or switch to that channel and take a bite. You won't regret it.

Now that's how you make a film - 2 July 2003
This film has got to be one of the best i've ever seen. It grabs you right from the beginning when Billy and Sidney are first introduced to each other in one of my favourite scenes of any film. It has many different elements to it all brilliantly done comedy, drama, romance and of course the best of them all - basketball. The trash-talking on the courts is great to watch and no matter how many times I see it it still makes me laugh especially when Billy is trying to psyche out his opponents at the 'brotherhood' tournament. It's just one of those films that you can watch over and over again.

I rarely give a film 10/10 but this one deserves it WATCH THIS FILM your life will be better for it.

Watched it a hundred times - 5 January 2008
Every chance I get I will watch this movie when it is broadcast. I just love it, if not for the sport, but the characters and the scenery. I feel like I am at a California Beach with them. I love the way Wesley and Woody interact with each other and could not imagine any other actor taking either of their places. I wish they would have made a WMCJ II. Their skill in playing is quite remarkable and very entertaining. Their lines that they hit off each other with immediate comebacks are very witty. The admiration that they had for each other was kept very well hidden until the director decided to let you get a glimpse of their feelings. A great movie with great actors.

Still On Point After All These Years - 11 October 2008
I recently caught White Men Can't Jump and, after the joyful nostalgia for my youth wore off, I couldn't help but feel sad that more than a decade on, all the white/black misunderstandings and tensions remain. For the film's sake, that's good, as the jokes and quick-witted dialog remain relevant, but still....

White Men finds Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes living hand-to-mouth as hustlers on the early 1990s LA street ball scene. Knowing a good con when he sees it, Snipes's Sidney Dean quickly convinces Harrelson's character to team up so they can exploit the perennial myth that white men can't play basketball. The relationship throws front-and-center each character's (mis)perceptions about the other's race, the permanent divide between men and women, and the crazy logic us dudes will often apply to justify taking a risk "just one more time."

Great on-court scenes and sharp-tongued wordplay between Snipes and Harrelson keeps the movie on track. Definitely worth the time. Too bad it never helped spawn any sort of real-life dialog on race and class in this country.

* My favorite trivia about White Men Can't Jump:

* When Woody Harrelson was making this movie, the producers hired Bob Lanier, the retired Detroit Pistons' center, as a basketball coach. Harrelson, who had played some basketball in college, was bragging to Lanier about what a great player he was. Lanier invited Harrelson to play a little one-on-one. Harrelson later described it as "the most embarrassing 15 minutes of my life".

* According to their basketball instructors, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson reached the skill level to be able to start for an NCAA Division III team.

* Woody Harrelson was significantly better at basketball than Wesley Snipes, however, in the movie they are depicted as equals, though Harrelson's character famously cannot dunk.

* Charlie Sheen was the first choice for the role of Billy Hoyle.

* In the film Woody Harrelson's character makes a reference to suspected John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. In real life Harrelson's own father had also been targeted as a possible accomplice in the killing.

* David Duchovny was considered for the role of Billy Hoyle.

* My favorite quote from White Men Can't Jump

Billy Hoyle: I'll tell you what. Why don't we take all these bricks and build a shelter for the homeless, so maybe your mother will have a place to stay.

* My favorite scene in White Men Can't Jump:

There were a lot of great scenes in movies in the 90's.  Very few of them can beat the opening scene in White Men Can't Jump.    "I miss this shot, I walk away, still a chump.  YOU miss, and you've been beat well, not once, but twice.  By a slow. White. Geeky. Chump."

White Men Can't Jump at the IMDB

White Men Can't Jump at Wikipedia

Back to 200 Movies That Deserve More Love