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On March 27, 1992, 20th Century Fox unveiled White Men Can’t Jump, starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review of the R-rated drama is below.
The title sounds like it’s straight from the mouth of Charles Barkley, which is perfect for this inside jam on playground basketball. Since the politikally korrect krowd has never been known to defend middle-class, white males, 20th Century Fox will not likely endure weird pressure-group nonsense over the title when White Men Can’t Jump scores big opening numbers this weekend.
From writer-director-Hollywood Y gym rat Ron Shelton, White Men Can’t Jump is a fast-breaking, trash-talking, black-and-white buddy movie starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson that’s likely to score big on both ends of the box office court — in the inner city and in the suburbs.
About the funnest scam movie since The Sting, Harrelson stars as Billy Hoyle, a long-shorts, backhatted hayseed from Louisiana who’s descended upon the asphalt of the Venice Beach basketball courts to hustle some dough. Not just a sportsman, Billy has some real incentive — two nasty sharks, not happy over his failure to point shave back East, are all over his butt.
Playing the dopey hick, Billy soon attracts the attention of the brothers, mainly one in-your-face, backdown twirler named Sidney Dean (Wesley Snipes) who gets blind-sided by silly-looking Billy’s courtside manner and finds himself on the short end of a $68 shootout. But Sidney Dean learns and rebounds from getting his pocket picked at midcourt: He approaches Billy to join his team, namely the two of them will work the South L.A. courts and pick the brothers’ pockets.
Their game-plan: Sidney trash talks black basketballers into games of two-on-two where they get to pick his teammate. No fools, their first round-selection is always the silly looking white boy. That’s when showtime begins. Sidney, with his backspin drives, not to mention the head games they work outside the paint, jams some fast green.
But Billy gets picked off down low when Sidney goes backdoor on him, setting him up for a wicked reverse slam as he and their two “opponents” take all Billy’s dough. For Billy, it’s “heartbreak time”: Not only are the sharks closer, but his sexy, supportive girlfriend (Rosie Perez) has about had it with his losing ways.
Smartly spreading his story beyond the end lines of the basketball court, writer-director Shelton has knocked down a sparkling, slice-of-life Americana story. As rough and shiny as chain nets on a sweltering summer day, White Men Can’t Jump is a poetic, rag-tag triumph.
All-star votes for Snipes, with his Earl “The Pearl” Monroe moves, and Woody Harrelson, with his Rick Barry perimeter touch, for their gutty, all-over-the-screen performances and high fives to Perez as Harrelson’s spunky, Jeopardy!-fanatic girlfriend. Tyra Ferrell gives some good minutes as Snipes’ dues-paying, ambitious wife. Former Bruins Marques Johnson and Nigel Miguel, plus downtown gunner Freeman Williams, add power on the boards. Tech contributions: All hustling three-pointers. — Duane Byrge, originally published on March 27, 1992
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