Although he’s featured heavily on the cover of the film, even the front character, Tupac Shakur’s role in Above The Rim is that of a supporting character as he plays the villain of the movie in a same style, tone and manner as he did in Juice. If his character didn’t end up dead in that film he would’ve naturally evolved into Birdie: a shady nightclub owner who has a big scar on his face and is the local neigborhood thug. But Tupac is just a villain-element in what is a movie about fighting inner demons and the story of a young talented basketball player who is being scouted by a college. But before he makes it to the promised land there are still some obstacles to overcome…
The movie starts off with some shady basketball game played between two people in an unlit room that is clearly some top-floor location. They make a bet who can jump the highest by touching the board behind the basket. A character named Nutso slams the board but goes right through it and the window behind it and ultimately lands on the pavement after a flight Michael Jordan would be jealous of. But it’s a nightmare of one of our two protagonists: Shep. Shep was a star basketball player until this unfortunate accident and he’s still filled with guilt about Nutso’s death and has now returned after a long time and taken up a job as a Security Guard at the gym where most of the movie’s storyline takes place. The movie does not go further into the fact of Shep’s dream is what really happened or a dramatization so I must assume it really happened like this which makes the scene hilarious. I mean who has a basket on the 30th floor of a building and plays there in the middle of the night without any lights on and has a glass window behind the basket that isn’t even made of security glass. One missed shot and you can walk 30 floors down to get your ball back.
Now by now you might have noticed that something is up with the names of the characters. Tupac plays a thug named Birdie, Leon the character of Shep. But that’s not all; We’ve got Flip the Bum (Bernie Mac), Bugaloo (Marlon Wayans) and other characters named Speedy, Rollins, Motaw, etc. Luckily the other protagonist, next to Shep, has a relatively normal name: Kyle-Lee. He dreams of becoming an NBA-player and is talented but not quite ready as he’s so focused on being scouted he’s forgetting that there’s no I in Team.
So there’s a talented ex-basketball player that saw his life go down drain in a flash before his eyes and there’s a young promising player who needs some guidance and steering from someone better than his coach. I have a feeling where this is going… Well not immediately though. Shep is silent and keeps to himself other than Birdie who wants to recruit Kyle for his own basketball team offering him money, pussy, you know: the works. So the movie is about Shep overcoming his inner demons, and Kyle having to choose the right side.
I think Above The Rim is an enjoyable picture but there’s nothing great or remarkable about it. It also has no lead-characters you actually feel for. Shep is constantly looking grim and neglecting everybody for what? Some guilt trip about something that isn’t even his fault. Kyle is a hot-head. Tupac is a slimy bastard who even kills a bum that said something disrespectful, and Bugaloo is an annoying Marlon Wayans who’s supposed to be some comic sidekick to Kyle but is never funny. It’s also mentioned a lot of times that he’s fresh out of jail, but it doesn’t show through in his character other than the final scene of the movie which felt forced.
A lot has been said about the basketball scenes and they indeed feel very convincing and the last 20 minutes consists of a street-basketball tournament where Kyle must decide for which team he plays and Birdie wants to win no matter what. This sequence as exciting as it was filled with cliches. The basketball playing itself looked real but all the characters acted like they were spoofing the material. Birdie’s team is dressed in all black because they’re the bad guys, and Birdie is constantly chomping on a cigar that he never lights while spouting comments from the sideline. His team makes street-basketball a real full contact sport as almost every team gets rendered disabled bey their elbows, fists and knees.. Now of course there are the last seconds on the board while the teams have an even score and of course at one point Shep will have to cast his inner demons aside to go for the team.
So Above The Rim isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t very original. Somehow it was somewhat engaging and never boring but it’s not a masterpiece, not even close.