Why remake a sports movie classic that still holds up?
This is the sort of news that compels people to say that Hollywood has run out of original ideas. Personally, I don’t follow that line of thinking. People often say they want original movies, and then often don’t go to support them. (Did you see Edge of Tomorrow, for instance?)
But most of the time, rolling our eyes at remakes is justified. The latest announced rehash that might compel you to wince at the screen and ask why is White Man Can’t Jump. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Borys Kit was the first with the news that a remake of the 1992 comedy is being developed by Kenya Barris, creator of ABC’s Black-ish. He’ll also be a producer on the project, along with Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin and Carolina Panthers lineman Ryan Kalil. (Griffin and Kalil have been increasing their Hollywood portfolio, attached as producers to a remake of The Rocketeer and an animated series titled Okies of Bel Air.)
Starring Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson and Rosie Perez, White Men Can’t Jump may not be classic cinema, but it’s a classic sports movie. (Rolling Stone ranked it No. 11 among its 30 best sports movies of all time.) For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s about two pick-up basketball players who compete for money. But Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) has a strong hustle going, a former college basketball player capitalizing on the belief that he can’t play because he’s white. After getting fooled a couple of times, Sidney Deane (Snipes) sees the opportunity to team up and hustle for bigger money on street courts throughout Los Angeles.
OK, it’s 25 years old now, but age is not the only reason a movie should be remade.
Sometimes, updating a past movie makes sense because filmmaking technology and special effects have improved. For instance, The Thing (the 1982 remake, not the 2011 version) or The Fly. Clash of the Titans might even qualify. (Since The Rocketeer was already mentioned, let’s include that too.) Or maybe a different setting could make a difference in how a story is told, such as The Departed versus Infernal Affairs. But so often these days, we see a familiar title or brand recycled for younger audience. This is especially true with horror films, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Nightmare on Elm Street.
Is there anything really new that a White Men Can’t Jump remake could offer? Or is this just about taking a recognizable name from a studio catalog and trying to wring some money out of it?
Barris is known for addressing social and political issues on Black-ish, and perhaps could bring a different angle to a White Men Can’t Jump remake than the original writer-director Ron Shelton. One improvement that a new version could possibly make is the quality of basketball. Shelton has admitted in interviews that Snipes and Harrelson were good athletes, but not talented basketball players. What if NBA stars were cast in at least one of the lead roles, something that might also help bring in a different audience. (Maybe Griffin could consider himself for a big part.)
For a remake to be as successful and enjoyable as the original, whoever is cast as the two leads (along with Billy’s girlfriend Gloria, played by Perez) need to have the same chemistry that Snipes, Harrelson and Perez had. Those three were not only rising stars, but they were great together on screen. Billy and Sidney are reluctant allies who constantly bicker — especially about social issues, racial stereotypes, and the differences between white and black basketball players — and entertain while doing it. Even if the basketball is spectacular, finding actors (or athletes who act) who can banter and trade quips as well is important for a remake to be as memorable as the original.
And don’t change the game show Gloria wants to be on from Jeopardy. Everyone can relate to wanting to be on that show, hoping they’re smart enough and maybe studying hard enough to win a spot. It was one of the most endearing aspects of that character and made her such an intriguing match with a lunk like Billy.
This is one remake Hollywood needs to get right. Although the question should still be asked why a remake is being done in the first place.