above the rim is one of the many “urban” movies released in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, tweaking into an era when hollywood realized there’s money to be made in hip hop and having rappers in movies. this particular one came out in 1994 courtesy of new line cinema, home of the house party, ninja turtles, freddy krueger series(interesting group there, don’t you think? hmm…) and later, the austin powers, friday, rush hour, final destination series, and some trilogy based on books by some writer named tolkien. it’s the same miramax model of capitalizing on niche and then moving into the prestigious. also like miramax, it was bought by a major corporation.
but, uh, back to the lecture at hand, above the rim was marketed as a hood/basketball movie starring tupac shakur. the soundtrack, which includes the classic “regulate” by warren g. and nate dogg, is probably more well-known than the movie itself. despite the trailer(in a world, where…), marketing, and soundtrack, above the rim is not really a g thang.
now, switching my mind back into film mode, above the rim seems to be about kyle, played by duane martin(woo, any given sunday, white men can’t jump), who’s the young and egotistical star player of his high school basketball team. his dream is being recruited to play for georgetown so his mom doesn’t have to work anymore. meanwhile, the comedic friend(we know he’s the comic relief because he is played by marlon wayans and is named bugaloo even though he’s only called bug in the movie) introduces kyle to birdie, the neighborhood gang leader. played by tupac shakur, birdie also his own team and seems to understand kyle more than his coach or the georgetown scout or even his mom does. birdie also provides the other side of the georgetown recruitment as he provides kyle with money, fame, and women. there’s also bernie mac, before getting his own sitcom and started oceanin’ as the neighborhood junkie and leon(cool running, b.a.p.s., bats, “like a prayer”) as shep, the high school security guard with a mysterious past that slowly reveals as the movie progresses.
as a gritty drama directed by former fresh prince of bel-air writer and first time director jeff pollack, above the rim works in a rather interesting way. the opening flashback sequence is unintentionally funny. but after letting me contemplate, it might have been just a dream sequence so it may be ok. dream or not, it involves a character named nutso. the opening credit also has the tupac song pain in the background where he wonders if he’ll live to 23(he lived to 25). we then are introduced to characters that are more or less stereotypical in movies like this. there’s the talented basketball star, the local neighborhood gangster, the mom, the mysterious stranger, the neighborhood junkie, the comic sidekick…etc.
but something happens after all that, the screenplay(by pollack and barry michael cooper, who also wrote new jack city and wesley snipes’ sugar hill) peels off the stocky facades of the characters and somehow connects everything together. shep is, in a way, a possible future of the kyle character. bernie mac’s character named flip, who at first seems like a throwaway side character, also figures into the film as a whole. things are also further complicated when shep and kyle’s mom(tonya pinkins from beat street and see no evil, hear no evil) started dating. the screenplay also finds a way to incorporate the white high school basketball coach played by david bailey. the film also thankfully stays on focus and leaves out the usual gangster dealings.
as good as it is for the first hour or so, even though there are way too many basketball playin’ for my taste), above the rim unfortunately kinda falls apart in the third act where “the big game” finally takes place. it goes on for about 20-25 minutes while we in the audience pretty much know where it’s heading. the post game wrap up of the movie also feels extremely patted, forced, and rushed. one of the characters’ action at the end feels more necessary than organically developed. it makes one wonder if the quick happy ending is in the original script. and this is not a legit complaint but the soundtrack is mostly composed of west coast hip hop, it’s pretty strange for a movie that takes place in harlem. but i guess that’s what was popular at the time.
as a non-sport or sport movies fan, above the rim works pretty well overall. leon, duane martin, bernie mac all gave great performance. i wouldn’t say tupac(with two movies and two albums under his, uh, rim) was great but he’s good enough for the material provided as the neighborhood gang leader(that razor in mouth part i totally don’t get). some may say that he’s playing his rapper persona but this is one of those villain roles that actors love to play. that scene with his brother at the cemetery probably could have been better with an actor with less gangsta swagger. marlon wayans may annoy some people as the comic relief, but he’s actually pretty good in the couple of scenes where he doesn’t have to act like the neighborhood clown. it’s a shame that the movie spends so much time on the basketball games. with its timeless themes of young people dealing with money, fame, fortune, women, loyalty, and characters dealing with their past, above the rim is a good-but-could-have-been-better drama with the leon character, instead of a g-funk basketball movie.
and now, what we’ve all been waiting for, which of course, doesn’t appear until the end credit:
above the rim just came off netflix instant. the subtitle’s pretty hilarious though as it translates “warren’s wealth” into “lawrence welk.”
3/4 chords, strings, melody, g-funk