White Men Can’t Jump, by Albert W. Vogt III

My sister’s list of movies swung from the travesty that is Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) to a better choice in White Men Can’t Jump (1992). I asked her about her suggestions. She said they were completely at random. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what that says about the things going on inside my sister’s head. Then again, some might believe that my own selections would be just as idiosyncratic. Who knows?

If you like basketball, then White Men Can’t Jump is the film for you. If you like films that break social and cultural barriers, then maybe not so much. Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) arrives in Los Angeles ready to hustle basketball players on local courts around the city who believe that, as a goofy looking white guy, he cannot compete with them. His first victim is Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes), a fast talking and playing hooper who challenges Billy based on the color of Billy’s skin, and loses. Billy is out in the streets as such because he is trying to raise money to pay off some criminals he and his girlfriend, Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez), owe. As for Sidney, instead of being mad, he sees an opportunity to develop his own con game using Billy and following the same principle. Together they go out to various courts, Sidney starts playing and beating everyone, and when they get frustrated, Sidney tells them to pick anyone out there for him to play with in a game. Of course, they all turn to Billy, and as a team they would take people’s cash rather handily. This works well until Sidney decides to double cross Billy, and Billy loses all the money he and Gloria had been saving. After Gloria marches the both of them over to Sidney’s house, it is decided that the two of them would pair up once more to win an upcoming tournament and thereby earn back what they lost. They do so, but then Billy’s big mouth gets in the way of him bringing the winnings to Gloria when he makes a bet with Sidney that he can dunk a basketball. For what happens next, I refer you to the title of the film. Gloria naturally leaves in the wake of such irresponsible behavior, but Billy is able to get back into her good graces by using some connections through Sidney to get her onto the gameshow Jeopardy!, a moment she had been preparing for for a while. Gloria triumphs handily, and gives some of her newfound riches (you know, because Jeopardy! pays out right away) to Billy with the expectation that he will use it to get respectable clothes and a real job. But then Sidney approaches him with a new proposition, made all the more important to him given that his house had been broken into and many of his possessions broke or stolen. When Billy agrees, it is the final straw for Gloria, though he does not know it yet. After beating the legendary opponents and gaining a great deal of money (even dunking in the process), he returns to find Gloria gone. Billy ends up losing Gloria, but gaining a friend and a new employer in Sidney, who hires Billy to work for his construction company.

I empathized with Billy in White Men Can’t Jump, but I also shook my head at him a few times. His true passion is playing basketball, and he clearly has a God-given talent for playing the sport. We should pursue the God’s gifts to us because they are clues to His will for our lives. This blog is a testament to that for me. Where Billy runs into problems, and this can be a problem for many of us, is in controlling his impulses. We can, of course, not condone the lifestyle he chooses of duping people out of their money. Billy is basically gambling, and while nothing in life is guaranteed, it is not the best way to build a future for him and Gloria. Still, the people he made these bets with went into them knowing the risks. Instead, I would pray that Billy learns to be satisfied with what he has because in addition with his athletic abilities, he is truly blessed to have somebody like Gloria.

There are a few objectionable elements to White Men Can’t Jump, making its R rating completely warranted. Rosie Perez seemed a little too willing to expose her breasts, even in scenes that did not involve love making. They are not always completely uncovered, but just about in many moments. There is a great deal of foul language in it as well. The other criticism I have of it is that it plays on racial stereotypes in order for the premise to be understood, though the Deane family is actually the more stable one. It is a pretty good basketball film, though. I had to chuckle at some of the moves, but otherwise everything looks quite believable. Definitely a movie for older audiences, but a solid one.

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