Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “White Men Can’t Jump.”
The Movie: “White Men Can’t Jump”
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez
Director: Ron Shelton
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Black and white basketball hustlers join forces to double their chances of winning money on the street courts and in a basketball tournament.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 76 percent
Brown: While Sports Month was back in July, I figured one more trip to the court was needed for the unofficial end of summer: Labor Day.
While this week’s pick isn’t the action-packed trainwreck that is “Spider-Man 3,” this week’s pick portrays two trainwreck human beings using each other to make ends meet in “White Men Can’t Jump.”
See, while we often pick movies on the JOE-DOWN just to make the other Joe miserable, this week was a classic case of giving us an excuse to watch a movie neither of us has seen. I certainly remember this movie’s, ahem, style. And, the movie title that made all us dopey white dudes lower a neighborhood rim to 7 or 8 feet to prove the box art wrong. And when has Woody Harrelson ever needed help getting high?
While I study for my chance at Jeopardy, give the people some initial thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: I certainly remember when this movie came out, because of the title. And you know what, it is true. We cannot jump. We cannot dunk. Our only basketball heros are Larry Bird and Detlef Schrempf.
Now, I have a better title for this film: “Every Fashion Trend of the 1990s: The Movie,” because holy (REDACTED) we got, in Woody Harrelson alone, an entire Pearl Jam video vomited upon his body called “clothes.” Tye-dye hat? Check. Parental Advisory T-shirt? Check. Butch’s brown jacket from “Pulp Fiction?” Check. Goofy shorts with a T-shirt tied at the waist? Check.
Brown, as I come up with some “yo mamma” jokes, why don’t you kick this off?
So this movie begins at sunrise on Venice Beach. There’s a man in a turban playing guitar on rollerblades, a weightlifter and dudes singing do-wop music on the boardwalk. So this is the tamest day in that place’s history. I’ve been to Venice before. It’s the first place I ever saw another human being take a rip from a bong. You could record any spot at Venice Beach for 90 minutes and it would make for an interesting movie.
Froemming: Where was this guy?
Brown: I went during the day so I’m guessing he was lathering up?
Anywho, a young man named Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) parks at the basketball courts. I did write in my notes “Don’t you have a job to go to, Woody?” Turns out, he doesn’t! He’s sleeping on the basketball court like a homeless person, and considering he’s sleeping in any dingy hotel he can find, he’s about a half-step ahead of being homeless.
But there’s no time to dwell over Billy’s life choices, at least not yet. Because there’s some (REDACTED)-talking basketball going on!
I do remember a bunch of pickup games going on at Venice when I went as a teenager. I didn’t hear this kind of trash talk, though.
Froemming: This kind of trash talk is what makes The JOE-DOWN!
So, I had so many questions here, because the premise is that Billy and Blade Sidney Deane (Snipes) are both basketball hustlers. How does one even make a decent living at this? After Billy hustles Sidney here during a game, then after with some free throw shots, he walks away with $60. Dude could be a bartender and walk away with at least $200-500 in that area in tips a night. But this isn’t Woody Boyd from “Cheers,” this is Billy Hoyle (I just realized how similar those names are), class A idiot. We learn that Sidney at least owns a construction business, so this is just side money and fun for him.
Brown: Does he, though? It just seemed like Sidney was taking a bunch of odd jobs to make ends meet. Turns out Billy NEEDS money because he’s in deep with the mob?
Froemming: At least in debt to two guys who look like Mac from “Sunny” wearing a mullet wig and a duster.
Brown: It turns out that Billy has some game. We find out he played some college ball in Louisiana until he didn’t follow through on a points shaving scheme because some guy on the other team told Billy he couldn’t play.
That’s when it dawned on me: Billy is the basketball version of Butch from “Pulp Fiction.” Yes, that makes Rosie Perez the annoying girlfriend in this analogy. Where’s the lie, Froemming?
Froemming: Billy doesn’t kill a guy on the court, and he and Sidney don’t end up in a questionable pawn shop?
Brown: We only see a glimpse into their lives. That could be them later on or in the deleted scenes.
So Billy hustles Sidney and goes to the hotel where he and his girlfriend Gloria (Perez) are laying low. See, hustling basketball games is apparently his means of income while she’s Ned Flanders’ evaluation of Lisa Simpson: “Springfield’s answer to a question no one asked.”
Froemming: Oddly, hustling basketball games is a career that pays slightly more than print journalism. Imagine having $60!
Brown: Why do you insist on making me sad about my life choices? It’s bad enough that I’m the only college graduate in my family and I make less than my siblings.
But, unlike Billy and Gloria, at least I work!
Anyhow, Sidney ruins the couple’s post-coital bliss to talk Billy into hustles… as a TEAM!
Froemming: And we all know how this will end!
So we have our dynamic duo, hustling random basketball courts, with Billy as the random doofus who is picked to play with Sidney, because he is a hillbilly with no game in the eyes of the others.
So they start making some money. Slowly building up to $1,700. Which, I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to make money with a job? That is $850 a piece. That is over time playing ball I think, multiple marks. Sure, it is more money than a print journalist will ever see in their lifetime, but there has to be a better way!
But hustlers gotta hustle, and Sidney has a bad day on the court, costing our heroes their money. But, it turns out, Sidney hustled old Billy. Because, as I have said, Billy is a moron.
Brown: We just glossed over my favorite person that Billy and Sidney hustled: Raymond. Dude is pretty much Roberto from “Futurama.” In order to have enough money to play against our duo, he tries to rob a liquor store nearby, only for the owner to know who it is right away. It’s actually really damn funny.
Then when he finds out he’s been hustled, Raymond just says he’ll get his second gun and shoot everyone on the court. I feel that, like Roberto, Raymond keeps himself up at night by practicing his stabbing motion.
As for getting hustled by his own teammate, this goes to my main problem with this movie: Billy is an unforgivable degenerate.
Billy, why are you putting down all your hustle money to a guy you’ve been around once? Don’t go from small amounts to all in. That’s just bad gambling.
Froemming: Billy is cool-headed on the court, but once he is off, he goes all crazy on people for random things. Like being told he needs to hear Jimi Hendrix, not just listen to him. Or Gloria chewing gum sets him off. Or Ray Charles singing country music sets him off…
Yeah, Billy is a real piece of (REDACTED) in this movie. Not only is he a massive jerk, he has a wicked ego problem and is a horrible gambler.
Brown: Another confirmed sign that he’s an asshole? He carries around a guitar everywhere.
Froemming: So when he finds out Sidney has hustled him, why he — doesn’t lose his crap on him? He is all “guy had an off day.” Gloria knows he was hustled. We know he was hustled. But Billy is like “Nah…” Billy loses his temper on all sorts of things except the one thing that he really should be upset about.
So Gloria takes things into her own hands, and decides they are going to Sidney’s to — get their money back.
OK, so Gloria is kinda as stupid as Billy, but her heart is in the right place.
So we get a pretty decent scene with these two jabronis going over to Sidney and his wife’s crappy apartment. We saw Sidney and his wife looking at a house earlier, but because he works odd jobs and street hustles, it is kinda hard to own a home. But scamming this cornfed doofus landed him a pretty decent windfall of cash!
Brown: The ladies come up with a solution: Billy and Sidney are going to play in a two-on-two tournament that put me in a blind fit of rage because it was named a first annual tournament.
*rubs temples* There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. First. Annual.
Also, the tournament is apparently run by the Coalition of American Corporations… So, the Republican Party?
Long montage out of the way, Billy and Sidney win $5,000. But there’s this stupid tension where Sidney wants to win with authority and Billy just wants to win. It’s so, so dumb.
Not as dumb as Billy, though!
When they’re driving back, the two get into an argument where apparently white people care about winning, then showing off where apparently black people care more about showing off. It’s just infuriating to watch. This movie isn’t racism by the numbers quite like “Crash,” but it’s in the same territory.
And because Billy is a degenerate gambler who CLEARLY needs help, he bets his share of the money that he can dunk. Of course he can’t and he’s broke once again. It was sad to see Gloria break a speed record for the amount of time it took for a woman to be uncontrollably horny to anger on the verge of tears. Then again, I haven’t been in a lot of relationships.
The only explanation I can come up with on Billy’s gambling problems can be summed up best by Homer Simpson.
Froemming: Billy is like Marty McFly being called “yellow,” but nobody really does that, he just flips out on his own accord. Sidney just made a passing comment about him not being able to dunk. And then, out of nowhere, we get this sad dunking contest that costs Billy — who owes that money to homicidal 1990s goons — everything he has.
And then he and Gloria have their fight, and he sets the hotel on fire. But before he can put it out, he is kidnapped and stripped naked by those goons.
The hotel fire, I assume, was hopefully put out by the sprinkler system. On the other I hand, I hope not so Billy’s guitar is set ablaze. Who does he think he is? Axl Rose in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video, all coming to California from Hicksville, USA with stupid rock star dreams?
Brown: OK, the hired goons catch up to Billy and they give him a week to get the money. Then, to drive the point home, they show Billy Polaroids of all the people they’ve whacked.
What kind of dumbass mobster leaves behind a literal (REDACTED) book of their criminal activity? That’s the kind of thing that leads to a crime family’s downfall in a Scorcese film, guys! You may as well have “Gimme Shelter” playing over this scene since Scorcese loves himself some Rolling Stones.
Froemming: Or the kind that debates what is the highest number….
Brown: So… Billy needs his $8,000 and FAST! So what is a man to do? Go into crime? Get an actual job? Go all “Midnight Cowboy” and become a gigolo?
Nope. Billy goes to the person who has screwed him out of his money numerous times and asks for a favor: Use Sidney’s connections to get Gloria onto Jeopardy.
Look, I’m all for Gloria getting her shot, but I hate that it comes courtesy of her scumbag of a boyfriend. She deserves SOOOOO much better.
Naturally, her knowledge of everything, namely “Food That Begin With The Letter Q,” Gloria wins $14,100 on her first try. The rags-to-riches stories are always great. The former disco queen, as Alex Trebek inexplicably says in this movie, is now a Jeopardy champion.
And then Billy has to go and ruin it by being there, singing an absurd song about how he won’t get her a glass of water and naturally, they bang.
This movie, namely Gloria’s quick acceleration into making love to Billy over any little thing, reaffirms that I know nothing about women.
Froemming: Even worse, she wants Billy to be a success by offering him $2 grand for clothes to clean himself up and get a job. And what happens? Another damn game to gamble on comes along with two street legends, The King and The Duck.
Brown: That sounds like the kind of kids story that Fry would have made up in “Futurama.”
Froemming: Gloria breaks some great movie tropes here by saying she loves Billy, but actually leaves his punk ass, as it should be. Billy really blurs the line here between being a streetwise hustler and a podunk from Indiana that bartends to an alcoholic mailman and an out-of-work schlub in Boston.
Brown: We should mention that Billy gets into this game because Sidney’s apartment got robbed and he’s really under pressure now to win some money and move his family to a nicer neighborhood. Billy acts like he NEEDS to do this because male pride or something.
But… honestly, Sidney could have said nothing about the robbery and Billy would still be 100 percent for gambling his $2,000 away. BECAUSE HE HAS A PROBLEM AND HE NEEDS HELP!
So yeah, Billy and Sidney do win the game and the money. Hell, Billy DUNKS, proving that white men, in fact, CAN jump. But when Billy returns to the hotel room, Gloria is gone.
She finally left Billy. She… she finally cut out the cancer in her life.
Froemming: This was one of those times I wished the movie ended earlier. Gloria skating off, leaving Billy with his hopeless life, would have been dynamite. But we needed to see the white man jump and dunk a ball, because otherwise FOX News would call this movie racist. Because they have no idea how anything works.
Look man, I’m going to grab “money” from my glove compartment so I can stick you up down in recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: I’m conflicted. This is an entertaining movie but it’s a terrible lesson. Hell, Billy doesn’t address his clear gambling addiction and the end muddies up an already flimsy ending. I guess for being entertaining, give it a watch and hope that Billy got the help he desperately needs.
Froemming: This one I am not sure. I enjoyed watching it, but I feel the messages are confused. But I always enjoy Woody Harrelson, so I say give it a shot, but try to not overthink it.