Film Review: White Men Can’t Jump (dir by Calmatic)

Hulu’s White Men Can’t Jump is the story of two aging basketball players who have never lived up to their potential but who have yet to totally give up on their dreams.

Even when he was in high school, Kamal Allen (Sinqua Walls) was considered to be one of the best basketball players in the country.  A lot of that was due to how he was raised by his father, Benji (Lance Reddick, giving a strong performance in one of his final roles).  Benji was a basketball star himself and, as we see in several flashbacks, he trained Kamal to be the best.  Benji was so obsessed with turning Kamal into a great player that he even drove away Kamal’s mother.  Benji taught Kamal all that he needed to know about playing basketball but not enough about how to survive once his playing days were over.  Unfortunately, after Benji was diagnosed with MS, Kamal lost his concentration.  When he responded to being taunted during a game by going into the stands and punching a guy out, Kamal ended up getting arrested and he also ended up losing his chance of entering the NBA.

Jeremy (Jack Harlow) was a college basketball star who blew out his knee and lost his chance to go pro.  He makes his living hustling other basketball players, knowing that they’ll assume that he can’t shoot because he’s white.  He also sells highly suspicious health tonics and he spends a lot of time meditating.  Though he can barely walk without taking his pain pills first, Jeremy still wants to make the NBA.  When he hears that stem cell treatment might help his knee, Jeremy starts to scheme to win the money to cover the cost.

Together, Jeremy and Kamal hustle other players, make some money, and become unlikely friends.

It took me three days to get through White Men Can’t Jump, largely because the film itself was so boring that I struggled to actually pay attention to it for more than a few minutes at a time.  This film is a remake of a 1992 film that starred Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.  I have not seen the original White Men Can’t Jump but I have seen enough films featuring both Snipes and Harrelson to know that they are both talented and charismatic actors who both have strong comedic timing.  In short, they don’t have much in common with the two leads of the new version of White Men Can’t Jump.  In the role of Kamal, Sinqua Walls is solid but dull.  Walls is convincing but he’s never particularly interesting.  Making his film debut in the role of Jeremy, rapper Jack Harlow is so incredibly obnoxious that I found myself wanting to throw something at the screen whenever he popped up.  The film repeatedly emphasizes that no one wants to play with Jeremy because he’s white but I think it’s equally probable that they’re just reacting to the fact that he is an incredibly annoying human being.  Director Calmatic does all the usual choppy editing and slow-motion dunking that most viewers have come to expect from movies about basketball but with little chemistry between the leads and a script that tends to repeat the same jokes over and over again, this film never takes flight.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2018: The 15:17 To Paris (dir by Clint Eastwood)

As we all know, October is the month when we usually ignore everything but the horror genre here at the Shattered Lens.  However, I’m going to briefly interrupt our horrorthon to say a few words about The 15:17 to Paris.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris is a film about the 2015 Thalys train attack.  This was when a terrorist named Ayoub El Khazzani opened fire on a train that was heading from Amsterdam to Paris.  He wounded three passengers and probably would have killed countless more (there were over 500 people on the train) if he had not been subdued by three American friends, one British passenger, and a French train driver.  The 15:17 to Paris focuses on the three Americans, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alex Skarlatos.

When the film was released on February 9th, it got middling reviews and was considered to be a box office disappointment.  Myself, I saw it the first week of March, just a few days before Jeff and I left for a two-week stay in the UK.  I meant to review it when we returned to America but I just never got around to it.  However, about a week ago the film made its cable debut and seeing as how Clint Eastwood has a second film coming out this year that might be the Oscar contender that his first film probably won’t be, I figured now is as good a time as any to defend The 15:17 To Paris.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The 15:17 to Paris is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, the film’s first line of dialogue — in which Anthony Sadler, in voice over, says that he knows we’re probably wondering why “a brother like me” is hanging out with two white guys — made me cringe so hard that I was worried I might sink into my seat and never be able to escape.  Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alex Skarlatos all play themselves in the movie and none of them comes across as being a natural actor.  They may be heroes but they aren’t movie stars.

And yet, the fact that none of them are stars is also the film’s greatest strength.  Throughout the film, Eastwood emphasizes how totally and completely average Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone are.  None of them really get the type of “hero shots” that one normally expects to see in a film like this.  Instead, Eastwood continually reminds us that they’re just three friends who happened to be on the train when the shooting started.  They put their own lives at risk to take the shooter down and they also provided first aid to a man who had been shot.  Whether they have movie star charisma or not, they still saved countless lives.  The film’s point is that you don’t have to be Chris Pratt or Chris Evans to be a hero.  You can just be Chris from across the street.  You just have to be someone willing to do the right thing at the right time.  It’s a sincere and heartfelt message and it’s one that comes across specifically because Eastwood cast three nonprofessionals.

The film starts with a lengthy sequence that depicts the childhoods of the three lifelong friends.  It’s kind of a strange sequence, largely because almost all of the supporting roles are filled by talented actors who are best known for their comedic work on television.  Thomas Lennon plays a high school principal while Tony Hale shows up as a coach.  Even Jaleel White (!) has a role as a teacher who gives the boys advice on self-defense.  When the childhood scenes work, it’s largely due to the performances of Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer, who plays the mothers of Alex and Spencer.  But whenever Fischer and Greer aren’t around, the childhood scenes are a bit too slow and awkward.

However, once Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone are on that train, the film definitely picks up.  Whatever awkwardness that the three nonprofessionals may have exhibited earlier in the movie disappears as they spring to action and they recreate their responses to the attack on the train.  It’s here that Eastwood’s no-nonsense approach to storytelling definitely pays off, as he recreates the train attack without any of the showy tricks that you might expect from other directors.  Instead, Eastwood allows things to play-out naturally.  Like the passengers on that train, all we can do is watched as the three men rush the gunman.

The 15:17 to Paris may not be one of Eastwood’s best films but it’s hardly the disaster that it was made out to be.  Instead, it’s a sincere and unapologetically old-fashioned celebration of heroism and doing the right thing.

Film Review: Shark Night 3D (dir. by David Ellis)

If nothing else, the new film Shark Night 3D has an appropriate title.  The movie takes place over the course of one night, there are a few sharks, and it’s all presented in 3D.  If only the rest of the film worked as well.

Basically, the film is about this college student named Sara (played by Sara Paxton) who invites all of her college friends to Louisiana for the weekend and basically gets them all killed.  Among Sara’s friends are geeky-but-cute Nick (Dustin Milligan), geeky-but-not-so-cute Gordon (Joel David Moore, who was also in Avatar), token black guy Malik (Sinqua Walls), Malik’s girlfriend Maya (Alyssa Diaz), Beth (American Idol runner-up Katherine McPhee) who we know is doomed because she has both tattoos and big boobs, and Blake (Chris Zylka), who possesses no personality but he does have a really nice ass.  Seriously.  Unfortunately, Sara forgets to tell them that her psycho ex-boyfriend Dennis (Chris Carmack) is waiting for her, along with his redneck buddy Red (Josh Leonard). 

There’s also a lot of sharks swimming around this lake and, since this is a 3D movie, these sharks are capable of jumping out of the water like dolphins and snatching people out of boats and off of docks.  Seriously, these are some talented sharks.  Malik gets his arm bitten off and it’s pretty much all downhill from there.  Malik is talented too because, even after he gets his arm bitten off, he’s still capable of grabbing a harpoon and standing out in the middle of the lake, bleeding as he taunts the sharks.  Now, as ludicrous as this sounds, it’s probably the film’s best moment.  It’s certainly one of the only truly grindhouse moments in this film.  At the very least, it suggests a self-awareness that is lacking from the rest of the film. 

Shark Night 3D sucks.  There, I said it.  I feel a little bad about saying that because, obviously, you can’t judge Shark Night 3D by the same standard that you would judge a film like 8 1/2 or The Rules of the Game.  As I watched the end credits roll, I wondered if maybe I was being too hard on this film.  After all, a lot of the dialogue was so bad that the intention behind it had to have been satiric?  Right?  Was I just being unfair?  So, mentally, I compared Shark Night 3D to last year’s Piranha 3D and I quickly realized that I wasn’t being unfair.  Shark Night 3D sucks. 

The cast is uniformly bland, the plot is silly without ever being enjoyable, and — worst of all — the sharks are boring.  Remember how the killer fish in Piranha 3D managed to be both ludicrous and scary?  Remember how they each seemed to have their own little diabolic personality?  It made you root for the piranhas and, as a result, you didn’t mind the fact that they were eating cardboard characters.  However, the sharks in Shark Night just look like CGI sharks.  Remember how the piranhas were literally everywhere in Piranha 3D?  In Shark Night, the sharks just pop up randomly whenever the film’s engine starts to run out of gas. 

I think the ultimate verdict I can pass on Shark Night is this: I am usually a total aquaphobe.  Seriously, I can’t swim.  I don’t do boats.  I don’t do water parks.  When my family went to Hawaii, I spent a lot of time walking on the beach in my bikini but you better believe I ran like the wind whenever I saw the tide coming for me.  Over Labor Day weekend, I spent a while wading in the shallow end of my uncle’s pool and my family was literally amazed that I didn’t freak out.  So was I, for that matter.  (Yay me!)

And yet, as I watched Shark Night — which was all about people going into the water and dying terrible deaths — not once did I cover my eyes.

Not once.