White Men Can't Jump
This smart, funny film about black basketball hustlers and a white guy who cons - and is conned by - some of them is actually more about language, timing, loyalty, and betrayal. Set on outdoor asphalt basketball courts in Venice Beach, California, and anywhere money is bet on a game, its Sidney Deane (Snipes) is a black basketball hustler whose other jobs are suffering in an economic downturn, and Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) is a white out-of-towner whose goofy shorts, backward cap, and silly grin snare his victims into wagering. Neither man hustles just for love of the game: Sidney needs money, as his wife reminds him, and Billy is a compulsive gambler.
The movie shows how the game is played in tough city settings. Director Shelton wrote the screenplay, and knows how the characters mess with each other's minds in endless taunts and bragging. Language is a great joy here, and original. Four-letter words aren't as stunning as some of the most creative, bizarre insults ever uttered.
Both Billy and Sidney are involved with women who want their men to be more responsible than they know how to be. Revealing an entirely new side as Billy's Puerto Rican girlfriend Gloria, Perez gives one of the best, funniest performances, as a tough cookie from Brooklyn who sets the household rules and studies the almanac in hope of appearing on "Jeopardy." Gloria and Billy know and enjoy each other, and have a happy physical relationship, one refreshingly direct.
Snipes's home life is complex; he's married (Ferrell), has kids, and is hustling basketball because he needs money. He and Harrelson team up, fight, then team up again. Even the ending has surprises - the payoff isn't what we expect. This comedy's high spirits and undercurrents of poignancy and lightness make it far better than the plot alone might suggest.
Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez
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