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Movie Reviews on White Men Cant Jump
1. White Men Can't Jump Review Ron Shelton¶s brash and energetic follow-up to Bull Durham drew arguably career-best performances out of Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as two small-time hoop hustlers, who team up to clean up. Shelton - who has since proved erratic within his chosen genre, the sports movie - displays his brilliant, idiosyncratic ear for dialogue (³Say my mother ain¶t no astronaut!´) here, and an energetic direction at pains to keep the actors and their ball skills in the same frame. It¶s overly long and the Rosie Perez sub-plot leads it astray, but mostly, it rocks.
Reviewer: Bob McCabe (Empire magazine)
2. White Men Can't Jump After the disappointing Blaze, writer-director Ron Shelton got back on track with the same mixture of sports action, sexual sparring, and comic, slangy dialogue that sparked Bull Durham. Like that earlier comedy, this is enough of a structural mess to lose itself somewhere before the end, but the jazzy surface action is even more lively and seductive. Basically the movie is a string of episodes involving two basketball hustlers (Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes) in Los Angeles, with racial differences serving both to help their hustles along and to define the limits of their friendship; Do the Right Thing's feisty Rosie Perez plays Harrelson's girlfriend, who longs to be a contestant on Jeopardy, while Tyra Ferrell is accorded the less interesting and less prominent part of Snipes's wife. Shelton's flair for fancy dialogue and his preoccupation with scoring often make him seem like the Preston Sturges of southern jive; unfortunately he doesn't have a matching sense of plot and continuity. This picture is packed with fun, but it doesn't really go anywhere, and elements that summon up memories of The Hustler don't work in its favor
(1992). By Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago reader)
White Men Can¶t Jump¶ (R) By Hal Hinson Washington Post Staff Writer March 27, 1992 The dialogue in Ron Shelton's high-soaring "White Men Can't Jump" is a self-celebrating form of verbal jazz. His characters talk for the sheer pleasure of talking. It's their jive art form, their way of inventing and expressing themselves. The movie is about basketball, and how an odd couple of playground hustlers (Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson) angle for the big score, but it's about words too. The play's the thing here, but that's not all. The play-by-play's the thing too. In the universe of basketball, the playground is a world unto itself, with its own rules and protocol. It's where the game gets down to its macho essence of bravado and humiliation, where you either smoke or get smoked. On the Los Angeles courts where "White Men Can't Jump" is set, Sidney (Snipes) is a smoothie king with liquid moves and a fly patter. For Sidney, taking it to the rim isn't enough, he's gotta jam on his man's ego too, to burn the brother down. As he says after one slashing drive, "It's hard work making you look so bad, man!" This is where Billy (Harrelson) comes in. Wearing baggy shorts, a backward-turned hat and a surfer-jerk shirt, he's one goofy-looking piece of white meat. And that's the hustle. Playing on the street ball prejudice that whites can't keep up with blacks, Billy lures Sidney into a shootout and, in front of all his friends, takes him for every penny. Sidney has never been shut down like that, and he feels it. But once the pain has passed, he realizes that teaming up with Billy could mean a chance at some real dough, so he swallows his pride and makes the man a proposition. Shelton, who plunged into the religion of baseball in "Bull Durham," works on a less metaphysical level here, but the results are only slightly less pleasurable. Both films get down to the essence of the game, and, perhaps of greater importance, down to the connections between the game and the players' lives. What Shelton also gets at, though, is where the metaphor between sports and life breaks down, where life is no longer a game. As in "Bull Durham," the physical sparring on the court is mirrored by the verbal sparring between the sexes. This is particularly true of the scenes between Billy and his girlfriend, Gloria (Rosie Perez), who spends endless hours holed up in their hotel room, cramming her head with useless information in preparation for the day "Jeopardy!" calls. (She knows all seven of the foods that start with the letter Q.) The scene in which Gloria says she's thirsty but then becomes enraged when Billy responds by getting her a glass of water instead of sympathizing -- that is, instead of joining her "in the concept of dry-mouthedness" -- is the movie's funniest. It's a battle of the sexes straight out of Deborah Tannen. Shelton's point is that white men and black men come closer to understanding each other than men and women of any color. It's a buddy movie that explains why men cling to their buddies in the first place. Not that the relationship between Sidney and Billy is a smooth-running affair. Because he and Gloria have been running one step ahead of a couple of hoods who'll kill them if they don't pay back the bundle they owe, Billy isn't in a position to say no to Sidney's offer. Putting their heads together, they work out a foolproof scam. Sidney arrives at the playground
first, antagonizes the best of the players there, then bets that he and any player the other guy chooses can beat his team. About this time, Billy sidles up, looking more like Emmett Kelly than Larry Bird, and naturally, they pick him. Like that, the trap is sprung. There are wrinkles, though, as when one of their victims gets steamed and goes for his gun. And Sidney, who hasn't forgotten that he got hustled big time by Billy, runs a double cross on him for revenge, putting their ebony-and-ivory partnership at risk. Harrelson is marvelous at this dopey, sad-sack routine. His Billy is a guy who has always been underestimated and has learned how to use it to his advantage. It's as if the Harrelson character on "Cheers" has been playing possum all these years; watching him wake up and snack on the scenery is tremendously satisfying. On the other hand, no one could possibly underestimate Sidney, and Snipes seems to be having a field day playing this cocky, walk-it-and-talk-it motor mouth. Snipes, who seemed claustrophobic in "Jungle Fever," is a dazzling, above-the-rim actor; he can really elevate, and he gives Sidney the swagger of a schoolyard aristocrat. The teamwork between the two stars is a well-balanced give-and-take, with each actor showing off just how well he can set his partner up. The real standout, though, is Perez, whose spitfire delivery keeps kicking her scenes into the stratosphere. When Gloria finally makes it onto "Jeopardy!," we're certain that she's going to bomb, but this woman is nothing if not full of surprises. This is her chance, and she's not about to blow it. There hasn't been a sports film quite as rich in character or as knowing about people as "White Men Can't Jump" -- that is, at least not since "Bull Durham." If Shelton's writing isn't quite up to the level of that earlier film, his work as a director exceeds it. His direction here is fluid and energetic; he's got the juice for the straightaways, and the control for tight corners too. But it's the inspired jabber that fuels the film. This is one director who loves words, and what a rare thing that is.