Top HipHop Uproxx
After months of promotion, apprehension, speculation, and debate, Hulu’s remake of White Men Can’t Jump was released on Friday, bringing director Calmatic’s interpretation of a 30-year-old classic to living rooms across the country.
A lot of the discussion revolved around the film’s star, Jack Harlow, in his first-ever movie role, which required him to do double duty as a fast-talking, hot-shooting former D1 player who teams up with Sinqua Walls to hustle enough 2-on-2 pickup games to enter a tournament for a quarter-million-dollar grand prize
Is it “as good as the original?” Honestly, who the hell cares? We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Namely, the biggest question I had going into the movie: is Jack Harlow a better rapper, actor, or basketball player?
We’re going to break down his performance in the movie along with a few of his accumulated basketball moments from the past few years to determine if the kid’s got a future or if he should stick to his day job. So, what’s really popping?
Jack Harlow, The Rapper
The version of Jack with whom the audience is most familiar, this is also the longest-running version of the Louisville native — at least, in the public eye (more on that later). After exploding into the upper echelons of rap in 2020 with “What’s Poppin?” Harlow rapidly set about establishing his standing as more of a hitmaker. However, he built his early career on a reputation of being a masterful technician. And while Come Home The Kids Miss You struck some fans as a bit of a sellout, which restored his reputation a few weeks ago with Jackman, his third album under Atlantic/Generation Now.
Harlow’s genuinely respected as a rapper, holding his own alongside his idol Eminem and another young bars specialist, Cordae, on the remix of Em’s “Killer.” He’s consistently proven that he can wrangle any aspect of the craft, from punchline-driven battle rap (“They Don’t Love It” from Jackman) to emotive storytelling (“Gang Gang Gang”) to more conceptual tracks like “Common Ground” and “Questions.” He’s a, well, Jack-of-all-trades on the mic, with the patience and dedication to execute heady material and the charm to make hits like “First Class.”
Jack Harlow, The Actor
This is the version of Jack we know the least about. We’re just getting familiar with Jack Harlow as an actor, between his recent roles in White Men Can’t Jump and last week’s episode of Dave (and his Doritos commercial with Missy Elliott, if you want to get really technical). We’ll definitely have more chances to get acquainted soon enough, though. He’s already secured his second role acting across from Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in their upcoming film project on Apple TV+ so get used to seeing those curls on the screen for at least a little longer.
Now, as far as his performance in White Men Can’t Jump goes… Look, it’s unfair to compare him to Woody Harrelson in the original, but people are going to do it anyway. Jack certainly embodies the oddball you’d slinging his homemade juice cleanses in the Erewhon parking lot, but his Jeremy is a little less intense than Woody’s Billy Hoyle. With that said, he’s magnetic as long as he’s on the screen, with excellent comedic timing and even does a little emotional lifting.
Jack Harlow, The Basketball Player
Back when I interviewed Jack in 2021 ahead of the Bleacher Report Open Run 2-on-2 with Quavo, 2 Chainz, and Lil Baby, I scrolled all the way back to the beginning of his Instagram in search of basketball-related posts to ask about and my patience was rewarded. Before he ever garnered a national audience for his rap career, he was playing in local pickup games in Lousiville — skills that have translated to impressive performances at the Open Run and in 2022’s NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, where he hit a pair of four-pointers and an awkward-looking layup on the break.
At a special screening of White Men Can’t Jump at the Grammy Museum in LA on Friday, the film’s director Calmatic revealed that a basketball trainer accompanied Harlow on tour to ensure that he would look like he could have played at Gonzaga — his character’s alma mater — for real. The training clearly paid off; Jack’s execution looks much smoother (there’s a smooth left-hand reverse that I know a lot of guys can’t pull off) and his shot form is obviously improved. Fortunately, his character’s role in the film is more of a facilitator, allowing Sinqua Walls’ Kamal to shine as the clear focal point of the team’s offense. Jack looks good as a hooper but like his character, there’s little chance he’s going to the G-League anytime soon.
For what it’s worth, the last time I did one of these rapper-turned-actor-in-a-basketball-movie reviews (for Pop Smoke’s performance in Eddie Huang’s Boogie) it was very clear that the subject in question had a lot of help from the editing room. It’s clear from my Friday viewing of White Men that Jack needed way less Hollywood magic to look like a serviceable player, while he proved every bit as confident and competent with his role. However, as both a basketball player and co-star, he’s very much the Pippen to Walls’ Jordan.
When he raps, it’s clear that he’s the star of the show, no matter who else is on the track with him. He’s rarely been outshined, and he’s proven to be equally adept at every necessary facet of the game. He’s definitely a better rapper than anything else.
That doesn’t mean he should hang up his jersey anytime soon; I’d love to see his new-and-improved game in another Open Run-style event — or even at the Crew League this summer.
Meanwhile, I have no reservations about checking out his future film roles. If he manages to improve his acting game the way he’s stepped up as a rapper and a hooper, he’ll be a legitimate entertainment triple threat for the foreseeable future.
White Men Can’t Jump is now streaming on Hulu. Jackman is out now on Generation Now/Atlantic.
Jack Harlow is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.
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