Courting Disaster

Above the Rim

Directed by Jeff Pollack

Starring Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur and Leon Robinson

"Above The Rim" is quite possibly one of the greatest films ever made. Or, at least, the last thirty minutes are pretty good. The rest of it doesn't really make much sense.

The film tells the story of budding young basketball star Kyle Watson (Duane Martin) who is supposedly torn between the influence of the fast-living Birdie (Tupac Shakur) and the more responsible Tommy Shepard (Leon Robinson). But the movie isn't very good at presenting a convincing moral dilemma.

Shakur puts forth a lackluster version of the typical "Superfly" character. His Birdie is only slightly menacing and only slightly charismatic. Kyle becomes enamored of Birdie when they meet in a nightclub and Birdie hooks Kyle up with an attractive yet apparently mute woman in a mini-skirt.

The Shepard character isn't particularly compelling either. He was a big high school basketball star back in the seventies, but his career was cut short when he had a breakdown after the accidental death of his best friend, "Nutso." He now works as a security guard at Kyle's high school and broods in the hallways. With such a history, you'd think he would have some words of wisdom for the young Kyle, but he doesn't. He just broods in the hallways.

There are a few other characters in the film--Kyle's clowning pal Bugaloo (Marlon Wayans), Kyle's wise old white coach (David Bailey), Kyle's no-nonsense single mother (Tonya Pinkins)--but they don't really have that much to do. However, none of these things matter once the movie reaches the climactic five-on-five streetball tournament.

The film is best when it doesn't have to worry about establishing convincing characters and it can concentrate on basketball. The conclusion consists of non-stop basketball action--slam dunks, slo-mo, the whole shebang--all to a thumpin' hip-hop soundtrack. The film achieves its ultimate triumph with not one, but THREE twists which include two last minute jumpshots and three slow-motion shootings.

I can't tell you who wins the games or who gets shot (though it's not hard to guess), but I guarantee that by the end credits, "Citizen Kane" will pale in comparison to the glory of "Above the Rim."