Producers: Kenya Barris and Paul Hall   Director: Calmatic   Screenplay: Kenya Barris and Doug Hall    Cast: Sinqua Walls, Jack Harlow, Teyana Taylor, Laura Harrier, Myles Bullock, Vince Staples, Lance Reddick, J. Alphonse Nicholson, James Earl, Andrew Schulz, Bentley Green, Arturo Castro and Zak Steiner   Distributor: Hulu

Grade: C

Calmatic, the music video/commercials director who segued into features with one uninspired remake, of Reginald Hudlin’s 1990 “House Party,” earlier this year, returns with a second, a limp revisiting of Ron Shelton’s 1992 movie about an odd couple of basketball hustlers.  A sitcom quality script by sitcom specialists Kenya Barris and Doug Hall turns what had been a smart, raucous comedy into a hoops soap opera with a few chuckles where a stream of laughs should be.  Nor do stars Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow come close to matching the team of Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, though neither is terrible; the chemistry just isn’t there.

Walls is Kamal Allen, whom we meet as a disgruntled package deliveryman whose nerdy manager Bobby (Arturo Castro) warns him apologetically about offending clients that ask for selfies.  Allen, you see, was once a high school phenomenon mentored by his dad Benji (Lance Reddick), ready to move directly into the NBA until a confrontation with a fan during a game ended his prospects.  Now he’s working a menial job, trying to support his hairdresser wife Imani (Teyana Taylor) and young son and living with the grief and anger he feels for letting down his father, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (a condition telegraphed in an early scene where Benji’s hand trembles as he touches Kamal’s arm).  The only basketball Kamal now plays is in pickup games at the old school gym with pals like the jive-talking duo of Speedy (Vince Staples) and Renzo (Myles Bullock), and he’s regularly taunted by neighborhood tough Jermaine (J. Alphonse Nicholson). 

Less background is provided about Jeremy (rapper Jack Harlow, making his acting debut), other than that he’s a former Gonzaga star whose promise on the court was ended by serious injuries to both knees.  Laid-back and mellow, he lives in his parents’ old apartment with his girlfriend Tatiana (Laura Harrier), a dance teacher who yearns to be a choreographer, just as Imani hopes for her own salon.  Jeremy makes do by selling training sessions to would-be ball players and hawking his homemade health drinks.  He uses them himself and looks into cutting-edge medical procedures that could solve his knee problems and get him back into pro contention.

Jeremy also pads his earnings by hustling, and takes a few hundred from Kamal by the simple expedient of reminding him about his high school collapse.  But despite that unhappy meeting, they soon make an unlikely combination when they conclude they can profit from hustling street players as a duo and, later, could earn really big bucks in tournament play.               

That leads to their bonding—and bickering—as they win some and lose some on their way to competing in a three-on-three game for half a million dollars, in which of course Jeremy’s knees give out and Jermaine shows up at courtside to rile up Kamal.  Along the way there are constant problems with raising funds to cover application fees, as well as bathetic episodes involving the deterioration of Benji’s condition.  Of course, difficulties also arise in the guys’ relationships with Imani and Tatiana.  But in the end—surprise, surprise—Kamal learns to forgive himself for his youthful failings and Jeremy learns a sense of responsibility.

If Shelton’s original film didn’t exist, Calmatic’s movie would probably be dismissed as a harmless, if formulaic time-waster.  Walls is a strong actor, and though Harlow is hardly a bundle of charisma, he does demonstrate a degree of understated charm here.  Though neither Taylor nor Harrier is given the opportunity to shine that Rosie Perez enjoyed as Harrelson’s girlfriend in the original, both are agreeable, and while overall the supporting cast is no better than average and the dialogue assigned them underwhelming, it’s good to have the chance to see the late Reddick onscreen again, even if in a thankless role.  Tomas Voth’s production design is adequate, cinematographer Tommy Maddox-Upshaw and editor Jonathan Schwartz manage some effective court action (even if the guys’ trajectory to the championship isn’t made entirely clear), and Marcelo Zarvos’ score (with a heaping helping of hip-hop and rap tracks) will do.

But of course the 1992 movie does exist—and is readily available (also on Hulu, as it happens)—indeed, Barris and Hall make the mistake of referencing it in a jokey way at several points; and the comparison is pretty devastating.  For viewers who have never seen Shelton’s classic take on the premise, this “White Men Can’t Jump” might pass muster.  For those who have, the contest between the two will be a blowout.