Movie Review: Above The Rim
Growing up in the nineties I was a massive Tupac Shakur fan. Any and all media that was related to Tupac I gobbled up. The man was exuding charisma you wouldn’t believe if you weren’t a part of that time in this weird world. So I bought into Above The Rim right out of the gate.
However 22 yrs later I dust off the old VHS tape, I’ll give Above The Rim a look with fresh eyes, with my Pac obsession transformed into Tupac nostalgia it may be an entirely
different film to me now.
As it turns out, Above The Rim is not on the big two streaming sites (Amazon and Netflix), Luckily I still had the VHS Cassette tucked away from 1994 and went to work connecting my old VCR to my 70in TV Via coaxial cable. My Xbox one almost exploded it was so incredulous. I swear the Kinect was recording my every move and reporting me to Bill Gates and Satya Nadella.
After keeping a watchful eye for the Microsoft hit squad, and deeming it was safe to fire up Above The Rim, tragedy struck. The VHS was ate up by my VCR, and mangled the film.
Big shout out to Dvdyourmemories.com in helping me repair my beloved Above The Rim VHS.
Well with all that work you would think I’d be rewarded with a blissful trip down memory lane. I loved the movie back in 1994 when I saw it in theatres and apparently watched the shit out of it to the point i destroyed the tape..
Above The Rim is still a solid film, thanks to the superb casting, however the story isn’t exactly a lay up.
The movie is based on a fictional high school basketball sensation named Kyle (Duane Martin) who has attracted the attention of top college scouts. Kyle has big dreams of playing in the NBA, but first he must get into college. Expecting a letter of intent from Georgetown, Kyle begins to press on the court becoming more selfish as he gets increasingly frustrated as the letter doesn’t materialize.
When an old friend, Bug (Marlon Wayans) returns to the neighborhood fresh out of jail, he introduces Kyle to local gang leader Birdie ( Tupac Shakur). Birdie entices Kyle to join his neighborhood basketball team as a ringer for the local shoot out tournament, by promising him money, women and all the finer things in life. While Kyle want’s to play for his high school team, for a kid growing up poor this is too much to pass up on.
This does not sit well with Shep,a former local basketball star who “made it out” of the hood but is now back as a security guard at the high school. Shep, not coincidentally, was once friendly with Kyle’s mother (Tonya Pinkins), and now, as they begin to date again, and Shep attempts to guide Kyle in the direction of college, and away from the short-term glories of the Shoot-Out. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Birdie will do whatever it takes to win the tournament.
Above The Rim comes out of the gate very strong for the first hour. I was actually impressed with the attention to the character development and the acting chops of the cast. This elevates Above The Rim when compared to the slew of urban dramas released in the nineties.
Leon is perhaps the true star of this film, He manages to steal every scene he is in and portrays a stoic, but wounded presence without falling into the usual trappings of all black male role models in these films. Leon brings a life to Shep and the character never feels dull or like a cliché. Wayans is strong as well providing enough comic relief to keep the movie from becoming to preachy and heavy, and the great Tupac Shakur brings his fire and bravado as Birdie. Bernie Mac’s dramatic performance as Flip, a homeless man, is not to be missed either.
Out Of Bounds
After all the good work that Director Jeff Pollack does for the first hour of the film – developing the characters and navigating numerous plots and sub plots deftly, begins to fall apart in the second half of the film. Unfortunately, Pollack couldn’t avoid the “Big Game” formula that plagues many sports films. Will Kyle get in a good school? Will Kyle escape the streets? Will Kyle get over his dislike for Shep and build a relationship? Unfortunately the answers to these questions are far too predictable as they have been done a million times before.
The movie is brimming with stereotypes – single mothers, screaming coaches, drug dealers and Pollack does nothing to give this overused (at least at the time) formula. To make matters worse, Pollack shoots an absolute airball when dealing with Kyle.
Perhaps the only performance that didn’t hit the mark is Duane Martin’s portrayal of Kyle. Perhaps its partially how the character was written – his “Me first” attitude makes Kyle genuinely dislikable. Pollack clearly struggles to develop the parallels between Kyle’s on-court frustrations and his volatile personal relationships off. A little more time developing Martin’s character could have made a world of difference.
It also could be that Martin dulls in comparison to the greatness around him or his one-dimensional character, either way it’s a glaring issue with this film.
A Slam Dunk
While Above The Rim goes on auto pilot for the second half of the film there is still alot to like here.A killer soundtrack that transports you to the nineties. While Above The Rim failed to live up to its potential, it is still an enjoyable movie. Watch it for the performances highlighted by the legendary Tupac Shakur, and imagine the possibilities if he not unlike the movie stayed away from the formulaic trappings of the ghetto.