1994, New Line Cinema

Jeff Pollack
Jeff Pollack
Benny Medina
Jeff Pollack (story/screenplay)
Benny Medina (story)
Barry Michael Cooper (screenplay)
Tom Priestley, Jr.
Michael Ripps
James Mitchell

Duane Martin (Kyle Watson)
Leon (Tommy “Shep” Sheppard)
Tupac Shakur (Birdie)
Tonya Pinkins (Mrs. Watson)
Bernie Mac (Flip Johnson)
David Bailey (Coach)
Marlon Wayans (Bugaloo)
Henry Simmons (Stearns)
Wood Harris (Motaw)

A high school basketball player learns the hard way about life both on and off the court in this sports drama.

Kyle Watson is a high school senior whose dream is to go to Georgetown University to play college basketball. His cockiness on the courts draws the ire of both his team and his coach. When childhood friend Bugaloo is released from prison, he introduces Kyle to Birdie, a local drug dealer who is planning to form a basketball for the annual Street Shoot Out tournament. Tempted with what Birdie has to offer, Kyle decides to roll with Birdie instead of joining his coach.

Things come to a head for Kyle with the appearance of Tommy “Shep” Sheppard, the newest security guard at the high school who has a past. Shep was once a high school ball star until an accident leads to the death of his best friend Nutso. To make matters worse, Shep is revealed to be Birdie’s older brother, who has been estranged from him and he also starts a relationship with Kyle’s mother. When Kyle finally reaches his breaking point, he soon learns an important about life on and off the court and finds an unexpected mentor in time for the tournament.

This basketball drama is an interesting yet gritty tale of redemption, through the eyes of both a cocky high school player who finds himself drawn to the wrong crowd and a former star who looks to seek redemption within himself after an incident forces him to never get involved with the sport again. Jeff Pollack and Benny Medina crafted a tale that only shows life on the court but the consequences that can occur off the courts based on one’s decisions.

Duane Martin does well as the very conflicted Kyle, a star who wishes to live his dream of basketball stardom only to have a very massive ego. He goes from cocky athlete to flat out angry when things don’t go his way. He is the type of character one would expect to go down in flames. However, with such a film, it takes the unlikeliest of people for Kyle to finally see the light when the third act begins. The singularly named Leon brings in a wonderful performance as Shep, who like Kyle seeks redemption, but it is because he still hasn’t gotten over the death of his best friend and to make matters worse, he now has his estranged brother to contend with.

The late Tupac Shakur is truly an evil man in the role of Birdie, a local drug lord who looks to take over the street basketball and exploits Kyle’s talents as well as attempt to get his brother to join him. Wood Harris makes a pretty good debut performance as Birdie’s right hand man, a ruthless enforcer both on the street court and during deals. While these days Marlon Wayans is known for playing the goofy characters in films, his role of Bugaloo brings some goofiness but at the same time, the role allows Wayans to break against type as well when it comes to certain pivotal scenes. If only Wayans can still do roles similar to this or given a chance to do something serious, this film proves he can do both. Bernie Mac makes the most of his role as bum Flip, who has a connection with both Shep and Birdie.

Above the Rim is an above-average basketball drama that focuses on life both on and off the courts. Breakout performances from Duane Martin and Leon drive the film as well as a somewhat against type Marlon Wayans make this definitely a watch.