A former basketball star returns home and finds himself in a new struggle to overcome his demons in this underrated sports drama from director Jeff Pollack.

Fifteen years ago, high school basketball star Tommy Sheppard’s life was turned upside down when his friend Nutso was killed in a freak accident after the two played ball together. Living with the demons of the past, Tommy has returned home after accepting a job at his old high school as a security guard. There, he meets Kyle Watson, the new high school basketball star. Kyle is a standout who dreams of going to Georgetown, but he also has a very cavalier attitude that can get him into trouble.

When Kyle reunites with childhood chum Bugaloo, Kyle meets Birdie, the local gangster who is attempting to recruit Kyle to his team for the annual shoot-out. When Kyle falls deep into Birdie’s hands, Tommy, who is revealed to be Birdie’s older brother, attempts to get to Kyle. However, things get complicated when Tommy begins dating Kyle’s mother. As Kyle soon realizes Birdie’s true intentions and how Bugaloo is seen as nothing but disrespected, he must make a decision that will change him forever.

In the 1990s, sports dramas and comedies, notably basketball, were becoming the rage. Notable films like White Men Can’t Jump (a comedy with some dramatic elements) and Blue Chips along with The Air Up There, had propel to sport to new heights in the film world. This film, from the late Jeff Pollack (who co-produced and came up with the story with Benny Medina), is a well-rounded out film with two stories interconnecting: a story in which one finds themselves and the other seeking personal redemption and relying ultimately on each other to follow through with their goals.

Duane Martin gives off an excellent performance as Kyle, a headstrong, cocky basketball star who has dreams of going to Georgetown. However, he is seen through the eyes of his teammates and at times, his coach, as a showboater who may be trying to impress the college scout in his eyes. However, they seem him more as a reckless loose cannon who refuses to use his team. Despite the berating, it’s clear Kyle seems to only look out for himself and that poses a major problem when he begins to run with local hoodlum Birdie, played by the late great Tupac Shakur.

In the other story, we have Leon’s Tommy Sheppard, a man who after an accident takes the life of his friend, he grapples with the demon that has plagued him as a result of said accident. The coach seems to be the only one at first rooting for Tommy. It is when Kyle listens to Tommy’s advice about executing a proper jump shot that there is some hope. That is, of course, until Kyle learns Tommy is dating his mother, which drives him over the edge. It is once Kyle learns the errors of his ways and has a one-on-one game with Tommy that both have learned they may need each other to stop the one connection that is set to take them both down: Birdie.  The third act, set in the shoot-out tournament, has some great twists and has a few shocking moments mixed in as well.

Above the Rim is a very emotional basketball film about finding oneself and redemption through the eyes of a former superstar and a current superstar who must try to overcome their personal differences to stop a common enemy of sorts. Great performances by Duane Martin, Leon, Tupac Shakue, and both a comical and emotional performance by Marlon Wayans drives the film.

WFG RATING: A

New Line Cinema presents a Medina/Pollack Productions film. Director: Jeff Pollack. Producers: Jeff Pollack and Benny Medina. Writers: Barry Michael Cooper and Jeff Pollack; story by Pollard and Benny Medina. Cinematography: Tom Priestly Jr. Editing: James Mitchell and Michael Ripps.

Cast: Duane Martin, Leon, Tupac Shakur, Marlon Wayans, Tonya Pinkins, David Bailey, Henry Simmons, Wood Harris, Shawn Michael Howard, Michael Rispoli, Eric Nies.