Earlier this week news broke that 20th Century Fox was planning a remake of the 1992 Ron Shelton-directed comedy White Men Can’t Jump. That makes this a great time to jump back and take a look at how this was sold the first time around.
The story follows two Los Angeles basketball hustlers, the kind of guys who play dumb until you give them the ball and put money on the table and then turn out to have mad skills. Sidney (Wesley Snipes) is king of the courts but winds up being hustled himself by Billy (Woody Harrelson), an unassuming white guy who everyone thinks can’t possibly be any good. The two decide to team up to pool their talents and winnings so each can achieve the financial dreams and goals they’ve set out. Through a series of double-crosses, losses and more the two wind up finding a way to work together.
The movie’s theatrical poster is pretty simple, presenting the audience with the core value proposition of a team up of Harrelson and Snipes. The latter is shown holding a basketball and the two generally look like they’re dressed for some sort of activity, so it’s easy to surmise that the movie is about basketball in some way, particularly when paired with the title, which is shown on Harrelson’s t-shirt. “It ain’t easy being this good,” we’re told in text on the poster, hinting at the swagger and attitude displayed by both characters.
What’s amazing is just how 90s the wardrobe here is. The pastel tank-top snipes wears, the tie-dyed hat – worn backwards of course – Harrelson wears… You can practically carbon date this poster and come up with its year of release.
The trailer starts out by introducing us to Sidney and his hustling skills, then Billy and his. We see them getting in each other’s faces and squaring off against each other before they decide to form a partnership. Then the focus turns to Billy, first to introduce his relationship with Gloria, then to show that Billy seems to owe some money to some not nice guys. Then it’s back to the tense partnership between Billy and Sidney, who keep needling each other at the same time they’re trying to make the mutually-advantageous hustling arrangement work.
Like the poster, the trailer is working not so much to sell you the story – there’s enough here to figure out what’s going on for the most part though it omits some of the cons and twists that happen – as it wants to play up the chemistry between the two leads, which is palpable. That becomes the central message of the campaign, then, that it’s all about seeing a couple of fast-talking, loose performances from some likable actors. Considering the movie grossed a totally respectable (especially for 1992) $76m, that seems to have been a good bet.