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Ron Shelton's seminal sports comedy White Men Can't Jump seems, very much, a product of its time. Playground basketball was all the rage. Woody Harrelson was at the peak of his Cheers work, and Wesley Snipes was on the cusp of Passenger 57 after starring in a handful of Spike Lee joints. Remaking it today would seem silly, and yet, news just broke that a remake is planned... because that's what we do with any movie that has recognizability in its title. Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has been attached to a remake of White Men Can't Jump for 20th Century Fox. I'm not sure how Wesley and Woody feel about it, but I can tell you, Rosie Perez thinks it's a bad idea.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Rosie Perez at the Gasparilla Film Festival in Tampa, Florida, where her movie Puerto Ricans in Paris was part of the programming. During our conversation, I brought up the idea of a White Men Can't Jump remake, knowing that -- at some point -- everything in Hollywood gets a remake. And she told me why it would be a bad idea, explaining:
Some classics you shouldn't touch. Some films should be remade. I don't think there's a necessity to remake White Men Can't Jump. But quite honestly, I'm kind of flattered. I am. Because there's, you know... that means it had a certain importance to somebody or whomever, to say, 'let's do this again.' But that's tricky, because White Men Can't Jump was all about chemistry. Chemistry and timing, you know? Even the audition -- the reason why I got the film, the director was like, he goes, 'You two look like you're going to make out. My God, enough!' And we both started laughing and stuff. But it was chemistry.
In White Men Can't Jump, Woody Harrelson plays a skilled basketball player who travelled around to street basketball games in Los Angeles running a con because the African-American players never believed he could play. Once Wesley Snipes' character realized how effective the con was, he convinced Woody to work with him, so they could earn some serious cash together. Rosie Perez played Gloria, Woody's girlfriend, who spent all of her time studying for an opportunity to be on Jeopardy! I'm telling you, it would be hard to remake this movie today. To quote Wesley, it would be "hard god damn work."
Rosie Perez went on to tell me that it isn't just about finding actors who might have on-screen chemistry... because that IS possible. In her mind, the casting directors need to find actors who bring an alpha-dog mentality to the production, and that's harder to find. She told me:
The three of us are real original people, who make no apology for who we are. Yes, we were playing characters who were not like ourselves. But that said, we don't make, all three of us are kind of alpha dogs, if you will. And you know, I'm a highly sensitive person, believe it or not. I'm like the soft one in the crowd. But Woody is sensitive, too. But you know, in saying that, we're just like, we're going to create these characters and go for it. We don't give a shit if you like it or not. Seriously, if they cast this film, they're going to have to find three people that are distinct individuals, alpha individuals, who are sensitive and crazy and fun and loving and funny as hell. Otherwise, it's not going to work.
There you have it, Kenya Barris. Straight from the mouth of one of the key players who made White Men Can't Jump work. And if you can't do what she suggests, don't bother. As Rosie Perez says right off the bat, some classics you shouldn't touch.