Above the Rim

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin) has immense skills on the basketball court, the kind that could let him escape his life in the rundown inner-city streets. Thanks to his performances in high school, a scout from Georgetown has been dispatched to watch him in person, which means college could be well within his grasp. Without a scholarship from his athletic abilities, Kyle wouldn’t be able to go to college, so he knows how important this chance is. But he eyes college not as a place to learn and plan for the future, but as a stepping stone to the biggest basketball court in the world, the National Basketball Association. His mother (Tonya Pinkins) and her new boyfriend Shep (Leon), who used to be an ace on the neighborhood courts himself, urge Kyle to use college to advance himself and put his pro dreams on hold. But when he showboats too much to impress the scout, he finds himself without any college attention, though he does catch the eye of someone. That someone is Birdie (Tupac Shakur), a local drug dealer who sponsors a team in Shoot-Out contest, in which the best locals face off on the courts. When Kyle agrees to be on Birdie’s squad instead of Shep’s, it kicks into motion events that could change all their lives. But when it all settles out, will Kyle’s window to the future have closed tight?

A slew of urban teen pictures came out around the same time as Above the Rim, movies like Menace II Society, Boyz N The Hood, Dead Presidents, Fresh, and Poetic Justice. I wouldn’t say that Above the Rim is the cream of the crop by any means, but it is a well crafted and more solid look inside the harsh ghetto lifestyle. The idea of sports as an escape from the hood is covered in several movies from around this time, but none focus on it as much as Above the Rim, which uses it as the central premise. But don’t think this is a sports movie, like White Men Can’t Jump or its kind, as this is a drama with sports in the background. Yes, the film has several basketball sequences and they’re crucial to the storyline, but the main force behind Above the Rim is the personal lives of those around the game, not the game itself. And while Above the Rim takes a few wrong turns, most of the material is effective and paints a proper image of the hope & harsh realities of looking to basketball instead of education as an escape. Duane Martin leads an impressive cast that includes Tupac Shakur, Leon, Marlon Wayans, and Bernie Mac, among others. I think Above the Rim is a very worthwhile picture, but since New Line hasn’t done much with this disc, both in presentation & supplements, I think a rental should suffice.

Although he was only in a handful or so feature films, it seemed as if Tupac Shakur could have had a decent career as a supporting player. His turns had garnered some measure of critical praise and he had an existing core audience, so with a few more solid efforts, Shakur might have been bumped up a notch or two. But of course, that wasn’t in the cards and Shakur was shot & killed as part of a rap music rivalry between labels. Of his existing performances, a lot of folks hold his work in Above the Rim to be his best, though I wouldn’t be so fast to make that claim. I do think his most memorable screen work was as the notorious Birdie in this picture, but because of some thin character development, Shakur is never able to elevate his effort. No, he is stuck inside of a prototypical ghetto bad dude and while it seems passable within the movie, Shakur has to make due with the limits of his role. Other films with Shakur include Gang Related, Poetic Justice, Juice, Bullet, and Gridlock’d. The cast here also includes Leon (Cool Runnings, Bats), Duane Martin (The Inkwell, Any Given Sunday), Marlon Wayans (The Sixth Man, Requiem for a Dream), and Bernie Mac (Oceans Eleven, The Kings of Comedy).

Video: How does it look?

Above the Rim is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a full frame edition also included on this dual layered disc. As New Line is known for their dynamic visual efforts, perhaps I put my expectations too high on this catalog release. I’ve never seen the movie look this good on home video, but I suppose I thought New Line could work some voodoo and give us a pristine, high end presentation. Instead, we have a solid looking effort, but it looks dated and washed out at times, which is a let down. I suppose some might argue this is intention of the filmmakers, but when I saw Above the Rim in theaters, it had a bright, bold visual scheme. On home video, the colors have been bland and restrained, a trend that continues with this release, though colors and black levels look better here than before. As I said, I simply put too much faith in New Line on this one, as even they couldn’t produce a top level transfer here.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included Dolby Digital 5.1 option has some spark at times, but never amps into a full blown immersive experience. This is kind of a let down, as between the thick bass in the music, the various moments of gunplay, and the on court atmosphere, this one has ample audio potential, which goes unfulfilled here. The musical soundtrack has some solid presence, making good use of the speakers, but the other elements seem to come up short. The basketball sequences sound decent, but lack the depth and attention to detail needed, so instead of putting us in the game, it still feels like we’re watching a televised event. I did find dialogue to be well presented and while this isn’t a superb audio track, it is more than acceptable and handles the basics. I just wish it could have taken full advantage of the material’s potential. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround option, as well as English subtitles, should you need those.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

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