12 March 2005 | ztruk2001
Woody and Wesley when dey was cool
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.