From the Archive: Sleepwalkers and White Men Can’t Jump

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Here’s another fine example of the strain and struggle I went through to link separate films when I wrote about them for The Pointer, the student newspaper where I attended college.  My only real recollection of this article involves being stopped in the hallway of the Communication Arts Center by a professor who skeptically grilled me on whether or not I’d actually seen Sunset Boulevard. I had. The academic should have given me grief over the ridiculous mixed metaphor in the last paragraph.

Writers have long been the undervalued heroes of moviemaking. Films from Sunset Boulevard to last year’s Barton Fink have shown with scathing accuracy the shabby treatment endured by the people who first generate the ideas and give actors the words to speak. Yet two recent film releases position the person behind the original screenplay as the true star, though only one film is good enough to merit true praise for the author.

STEPHEN KING’S SLEEPWALKERS: Rather than being lifted from a previously published tale, the latest horror feature to beat the name of Stephen King boasts a story that created especially for the big screen. Like the numerous adaptations of his novels and short stories, this stands as a forgettable fumble he should be embarrassed to have his name on.

The Sleepwalkers of the film’s title are shapeshifters that consume human energy to survive. A mother and son pair take the form of a pleasant-looking, middle class family and move into a small Indiana town where the son (Brian Krause) begins scouting his high school class for a pure-hearted girl to take home for mom (Alice Krige) to dine upon. A pretty movie theater employee (Mädchen Amick) is the most appealing target, but manages to continually escape the Sleepwalkers due to the timely intervention of cats, the one thing that can kill the monsters.

The creepiness of the earliest portions of the film is eventually set completely aside in favor of standard slasher movie tactics. People are thrown through windows, police officers are killed by being stabbed with pencils and corn cobs, and the audience yawns all the way to the overblown conclusion.

WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP: A far better script is at the heart of the latest from writer-director Ron Shelton. The man who struck gold with the 1988 baseball comedy Bull Durham returns to the world of sports, this time focusing on blacktop basketball and the hustlers who play it.

Woody Harrelson is the white man who can’t jump, but he can do just about everything else well enough to team up with Wesley Snipes (Jungle Fever, New Jack City) to scam big money out of players on playground courts across Southern California.

The movie occasionally drifts into unnecessary and uninteresting subplots, but when Shelton focuses on the two main characters the sharp spark of their fiery verbal sparring drives the film along at a breakneck pace. And when the two play basketball their sheer skill and boisterous energy generate undeniable excitement.

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Posted in Film
One comment on “From the Archive: Sleepwalkers and White Men Can’t Jump
  1. […] for adaptations of King’s work, after years and years of big screen efforts that were dismal or worse.  Then critics shrugged, audiences rejected it, and the film faded almost entirely from the […]

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