The Air Up There (1994)
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I know the plot can be predicted almost to the detail, but if that doesn't immediately and absolutely put you off it, it's a real treat. The acting and script are sincere, but even more so, the whole movie just has an innocent sincerity to it that's actually a rare find (even in a kids' movie). If this movie were a romance, it wouldn't hold up at all with this kind of sentimentality, but in a fun movie that's (technically) a sports drama, it really lends something to the whole affair that can put you in a good mood every time you watch it.
I'm sure part of this is Maina's performance, which is so sweet you can't help but like it -- this is coming from a usually-cynical moviegoer who dislikes "sappy" movies.
All in all, it's a charmer.
The best thing, as usual, going for this film is Kevin Bacon. Mr. Bacon makes anything he plays in an enjoyable experience. No matter what he does, he is totally believable, as is the case with his role as this coach, Jimmy Dolan, who will go to any extreme in order to get a good basket ball player for his team at Saint Joseph's.
His African journey gives Jimmy Dolan a first eye view of the poverty and hardship the young men in the remote village have to endure. He realizes the potential, especially in Saleh, the young man he wants to bring back to America.
Both Mr. Bacon and Charles Gitonga Maina, who plays Saleh, have an easy time together bonding in a hostile environment. Their inter action makes the film enjoyable. Also, the mostly unknown supporting cast compliment the movie.
Granted, this is a film to watch only for entertainment and to enjoy Kevin Bacon at his most charming self.
The story is lightweight entertainment with the most notable aspect being the African music, which is very good and a small tour of Kenya, which is interesting, both with beauty and poverty.
Bacon plays as basketball assistant coach, an ex-point guard, who goes to Africa to recruit this great player "Saleh" (Charles Gitangra Marina) for his team back in the States. The adventures of the trip pretty much are the story.
One negative: another irreverent slam to get a few cheap laughs at the Catholic church. A nun in here uses profanity and gives Bacon a big kiss on the lips. It's one more example of trying to make clerical people appear worldly like the rest of us.
Now, I'm aware some of you might raise eyebrows at that statement, but let me elaborate; Not only is the scenery absolutely breathtaking, but all of the artistic design, costume styling, and cinematography is beautiful. On top of that, the story is engaging, regardless of one's ability to forecast the ending at any point. Additionally, the mere fact that themes such as maturation, redemption, independence, loyalty, "progress," and family all play central roles in this film, should qualify it is a deeper work of art than countless (sports) movies of today.
Most significantly, this film contains something else that is occasionally lost in similar movies: DECENT ACTING. Say what you will about Kevin Bacon, or even this movie, but without a doubt, Kevin gives a wonderful, believable performance. He excellently displays the passion that is a prerequisite to be an athlete or coach in highly competitive sports such as College Athletics. Furthermore, the character Jimmy Dolan exhibits a wide gamut of emotions over the course of the story, and Mr. Bacon plays this perfectly. Interestingly, the best performance of the movie (and there are plenty of good ones: 'Kid' Sithole as Nyaga, Wilson Ntshona as Urudu, and Dikembe Mutombo's brother, Ilo, as Mifundo) comes not from Bacon, but from Charles Gitonga Maina, who inexplicably, has only appeared in one episode of SeaQuest DSV since this movie was made. He is immensely likable, charming, and completely believable as a star basketball player (after all, he was a world class sprinter in real life!) from a humble village. Truly, his performance is absolutely spectacular, even when placed within the context of the other stellar performances in the movie.
Is this movie perfect, devoid of all stereotypes and patronizing cinematic techniques? No. And yet, nothing is lost because of that fact. As it was over a decade ago, it remains a wonderful, adventurous, heart-warming movie, one that deserves a far more solid place in cinematic history than it has been relegated to. I, for one, love this movie, and usually watch it a couple times a year, enjoying it every bit as much with each successive viewing (in fact, I feel the truth of the matter is, I enjoy this film MORE with each successive watching, as I continue to find noteworthy facets every time).
In summation, I implore you to do yourself a favor: the next time you're feeling depressed, inadequate, or entirely stressed, rent or buy this movie, and watch it. I guarantee, you won't be able to make it to the end without a smile finding it's way onto your face.... :D
Bacon is not really a lead actor but someone who can give a good performance in co-lead or support. Here he has a film to carry on his own and struggles with it. Mainly it's due to the formulaic nature of the plot lets be honest, even from the plot outline above I bet you could guess how's it going to end. However that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable just not very good. It has plenty of nice laughs and the basketball action is fun and will directed if not realistic.
Despite the formula the cast mainly do quite well, but really it never manages to get above the sort of formulaic sports comedy that we see so often. However it is entertaining and I did enjoy just switching off my brain and letting it go in one ear and out the other.
Instantly forgettable and very by the numbers but some good laughs, good locations and good basketball action make it an entertaining enough film to just veg out in front of. Not great but passable.
Kudos to Bacon for turning a pretty routine script into a watchable, even amusing movie with some OK moments and likable characters. Not as good as "Cool Runnings," but still worth catching if it's on Sunday afternoon or something.
Not great, but good.
This movie is interesting mainly for two reasons: it's good to see a sports movie that's not all about machismo, and a movie that looks at Kenyan culture (not one that we usually get to see). The movie isn't really any kind of masterpiece, but it never pretends to be one. There are some scenes that look like they were thrown in for comic relief (namely the goat milk). Pretty interesting.
In Kenya, Dolan meets with the predictable culture shock and skepticism/hostility from the locals, who wonder why a white guy from America would travel all the way to their land. He "befriends" the local nun/missionary, Sister Susan (Yolanda Vasquez), who advises him of the futility of trying to recruit the firstborn son of the tribe leader, who is duty-bound to his people. Enter an evil mining-company owner from a neighboring tribe who is trying to steal the Winabe tribe's lane, however, and the next thing we know, Dolan has joined the Winabe tribe (a swipe at American coaches who no doubt have bonded with their recruits in similar ways), and is their player-coach for the big game, a game where the Winabe land and Saleh's promise to play at St. Joe's if they win are on the line.
Bacon captures Dolan's essence very well, as an unsympathetic character placed into a very sympathetic situation. The movie is his coming-of-age tale, as we watch him mature from self-centered assistant coach to full-fledged mentor.
** (out of 4)
Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon) is a basketball coach who comes under pressure and needs to find a recruit that is going to help his team and his own career. He heads to South Africa where he finds a giant of a man and the coach must convince him to play basketball.
THE AIR UP THERE is the type of film that wants to offer up some cheap laughs in a rather cheap story. If you're a fan of Kevin Bacon then you might want to check this film out since he is good in the role of the coach but sadly the oerall impact of the film is quite minor as there's nothing awful here but at the same time there's nothing too good or memorable either.
I think the biggest problem with the film is its screenplay, which is pretty standard stuff as we get the coach in trouble, he gets his top recruit and then we have the various dramatic messages that have to come out about building character. The film also falls well short in its attempt at humor and by the time the film is over it just runs on way too long for its own good.
It's a bit of white savior but it's more of a native savior. Jimmy is broken and he is fixed by his immersion into the culture. Some of it is cheesy Hollywood. None of it can be taken seriously. However, there is a good lesson learned. It's a harmless feel-good movie.
Viewers are introduced to Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon), a selfish, cocky headed recruiter to St. Joe's basketball team. He's been working for several years and feels that when his boss retires, his seat is already set for him. Turns out though, according to his boss, he still "doesn't have what it takes" to lead. Then, out of the blue Jimmy finds what looks like could be a potential recruit for the team, but is quickly shot down from his superior. So being the rebel that he is, he decides to find this recruit anywho on his own. Surprisingly, later on his superior has no problem with what he did. He disobeyed a direct order, which means punishment not reversal of the expected reaction. That's very cliché and unrealistic.
The recruit that Jimmy is looking for is an African, specifically in Kenya named Saleh (Charles Gitonga Maina) who has quite a bit of length to his height. Seriously, this guy is TALL. Saleh is apart of a Kenyan tribe called the Winabe and Jimmy hopes to earn their trust. And how better to do that than take part in their traditions and culture. Another cliché aspect to the plot's writing. This is not the first time this kind of experience has been shown, especially with African tribes. Why is it always with the African tribes? Apparently a number of these scenes were supposed to be funny when in fact they come off either unfunny or uncalled for. This movie is rated PG and yet people are cursing, blurting out sexual slang and even a scene with blood involving a knife. How is that acceptable? Who rated this movie?
This also demonstrates the incompetence of the director and writer. The writer Max Apple, who only worked on two other productions in his life, didn't make a screenplay with much cleverness or distinguished traits. Most, if not all of it is generic and out of place. Worser so, is that Paul Michael Glaser has flimsy directional skills; especially for accepting Apple's screenplay without even suggesting more rewrites. A big chunk of the story's first two acts focus on Jimmy trying to earn the tribes trust which is out of his own selfish motivations. Who cares, there are other things that could've been looked upon, than it taking up the majority of the running time. Musically speaking, David Newman's score was appropriate to the setting and tried to make it as up beat as possible but it had nothing memorable. The camera work by Dick Pope was acceptable too. A number of shots contained a lot of African terrain and helped at least give the film some scope.
Possibly the only character with enough true saving grace to the film is Charles Maina as the Winabe basketball recruit. Saleh as an individual has more charm than any other character in the entire running time. With his selfless personality and genuine smile, it is difficult not to enjoy him when he's on screen. It's shocking actually because again, Kevin Bacon stars in it too, yet he comes off just as generic and boring as the rest of the cast accept Charles Maina. Even weirder is that Maina didn't go on to be anything bigger. How come? The man acted respectively, why shouldn't he be given another chance? It's not a terrible film, but there's nothing that hasn't been presented before. See it for Charles Maina's performance.
Even with Kevin Bacon on board, this sports comedy isn't all that funny or entertaining. The only actor to stand out is Charles Maina. The rest of the cast (including Bacon) are average at best with a weak script and misguided direction.
Kevin Bacon is an excellent actor. Everything just came together in a nice way. This a movie I would buy the DVD for just to have it in my collection. I maybe carrying on about this a lot. But there are guidelines to write this review and I want to inform the public so they will try and see this movie.
This should give you an idea of my expectations of this movie. However, it was early morning, I was up with little to do, so I settled back, half in the hope it would send me to sleep.
How wrong I was! I enjoy Kevin Bacon when he chooses good roles - and this isn't often the case. Not expecting much from its bland beginning, I was beginning to nod off when Kevin's character, Jimmy Dolan, arrived in Kenya in search of a young African man he spied on a documentary. Jimmy is an assistant coach for a university, and in order to save his job, needs to find the next basketball star.
If you're a sports fan, there might be enough action in this to hold your attention. But if you're someone who enjoys heart, warmth, character and some of the most beautiful land ever caught on film, this movie will come to mean more to you.
For me, the country of Kenya played a lead role. The depth and color of the culture made this film a rich, living tapestry of tradition butting heads with progress.
Charles Gitanga Maina, as Saleh the prospective ball star, is breathtakingly handsome with a winsome sweetness that blasts from the screen.
While this film was meant to be about Jimmy Dolan and his growth as a man and human being, it's also about remembering humanity's history and respecting it for itself. It's also about bowing to progress with dignity and respecting the rewards that it, too, can offer.
Paul Michael Glaser proves - once more - that he can find the heart of a film and unwrap all its petals to reveal the core. He is a wonderful director.
He must be, for I watched the challenge basketball game with my breath caught, my heart pounding and feeling all the joy of the people of the Winabi tribe. And I hate sports.
Not Kevin Bacon's best work (in fact he's rather poor in this film) but the supporting cast are great. The locations are brilliant, the action (mostly basketball) is fine.
I would definitely recommend this film to a friend!
It is constructed out of movie notions. This is unexpected from Glaser, who ranks among the hammiest of actors, and is known for seeing things in character based/TV realities.
Bacon needs to score a recruiting coup (Glaser needs a hit movie). He is inspired by a 'movie', to undertake the quest, which is the movie. Along the way, he takes on a personal movie task of his own, which dovetails the two 'movies' together (he 'makes the cut' and joins the tribe). Clever stuff.
I suspect that the producers seriously whittled this down, so the movie ideas would fit through what they perceived as half-open minds...it's a shame that young people can't be allowed to figure out the narratives for themselves. Glaser acknowledges this, by defending the tribe from the white missionary/elites, who are compelled to 'save the savages' from a hoodwinking.
The natives out in the bush are noble, and the town natives are ignoble, guilty of the worst kind of frontier crime: cattle rustling, an old, old movie theme.
It uses a formulaic approach. And the ending is predictable.