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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Retro Review: The Air Up There (1994)

The Air Up There 
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Charles Gitonga Maina, Yolanda Vasquez  
Genre: Sports Comedy
Studio: Buena Vista 
U.S Box Office Gross: $21,011,318

Plot: An American basketball coach learns how to play the Kenya way, as he scouts a tall African 

'Mundane, Uninspiring and Unfunny Script, Despite Kevin Bacon's Valiantly Pleasant and Likeable Performance'

As much as I do admire Kevin Bacon as a serious actor, who has chosen movies that showcase and demonstrate his immense range as a performer, a lot of those roles tend to be as typecast villains. Not that I have anything against it, but it seems as a great a performance he puts in, it is almost virtually the same type of villain role. Be it in The River Wild, Hollow Man, Beauty Shop to name but a few. But he has proven in Tremors, Flatliners, Footloose that he is also capable of assuming a believable, commanding and developed protagonist and lead character, who isn't the bad guy. 

The Air Up There is a peculiar, yet times light-hearted film that doesn't have Kevin Bacon written all over it, when it comes to his movies and was directed by ex- Starsky and Hutch star, Paul Michael Glaser. For the exception of Kevin Bacon and the basketball scenes, every single thing about this movie has been and is a mis-step. If you have seen Cool Runnings with John Candy, well, this has virtually the same formula but with basketball instead of bobsled skiing. & like with that film, Black athletes are trained by a White coach. 

In this fish- out -of -water tale, Bacon plays Jimmy Dolan: a college basketball ex-player, who acts as an assistant coach at St. Joseph's School. After several lapses, Jimmy sees potential in a 6ft 10 inch player from Africa on tape, and from there on takes off to Kenya in his efforts to recruit him for his team.

In one of his rare turns as the protagonist, Kevin Bacon turns in an overly pleasant performance as the likeable Jimmy, despite the movie's lack of comedic scenes and jokes in this sports comedy. We see him at his optimistic best to the lowest of the lows, yet he still manages to pull through in spite of a bad knee injury, as well as showcase his dribbling and passing skills as a player on court. There are a few cliches such as the running herd of wild animals, though the rhino gets speared by one of the tribes, which for a PG-13 film was a bit gory to see and parts of the village being set on fire by other tribes. 

The concept is good and you would think that it would make for a great movie, but the plot developments could have taken place in any main street or basketball court in the U.S. Actually, the whole movie would have been better if the setting remained in the U.S and Jimmy was on the look out for his protege in his heartland. Moving it to Africa and to a place like Kenya may be highly ambitious, but it is a bit far-fetched and like with all sports movies, the climax is the main match between the two teams that ends up with the main team, being Jimmy's team as the victors. 

Up in the Air could have been a modest comedy.... had it made you care about the characters and that the characters were interesting enough for me to care about them and their human relationships, but dull -yet lack of characterisation, the film's direction and mundane and unfunny script put paid to that. And that really is a pity because Kevin Bacon, like I said before, is such a versatile and gifted performer, who could easily prevail in comedy, as well as drama and thrillers; and as the good guy, just as much as the bad guy. I know that a lot of people don't see Kevin as the main male lead type in a movie, but with this effort, it is virtue of the ineffective script that lamentably puts a dampener on his efforts to make it work. And as such, his somewhat valiant performance as Jimmy is overshadowed by the director, Glaser and the writer's exceedingly poor and tedious & uninspiring writing and direction.  

There were scenes and other plot-lines that I didn't really care for either, but for the basketball match, which was undoubtedly the best part of the whole film. 

You would be forgiven into thinking because this is a Disney family movie, all is forgiven, but really, the flaws in The Air Up There, not to mention its generic feel, outweigh the pros. 

Final Verdict:

For a comedy sports movie, it isn't as funny as it ought to be and lacks as many sports scenes. And I hate to say this, but even I prefer Kevin Bacon's other PG-13 vehicle, Quicksilver to this movie. The Air Up There tries to be as good as Cool Runnings as a sports comedy underdog film, but it doesn't possess enough interesting and amusing moments and scenes to make it as memorable and entertaining as it ought to be. No thanks to the poor script and lacklustre characterisation. 

Kevin Bacon is pleasant and I enjoy seeing him as a good guy; if only the movie itself was as good as his performance and thus showing, this would and should have been another solid effort where he is not playing the usual psychopath or murderer. But alas, this wasn't meant to be. 

Unless you are not a huge fan of basketball, this is worth seeing; otherwise, it's a forgettable and generic affair, not one of Kevin Bacon's absolute best - and not a movie I would personally sit through again. 


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