Above the Rim is a 1994 American sports film co-written, storied and directed by Jeff Pollack in his directorial debut, starring Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur, Leon Robinson & Marlon Wayans. The screenplay was written by Barry Michael Cooper from a story by Benny Medina.

The film tells the story of a promising New York City high school basketball star and his relationships with two people; one a drug dealer and the other a basketball star who is now employed as a security guard at his former high school.

It was released on March 23, 1994 by New Line Cinema.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Kyle Watson (Duane Martin) is a talented basketball player who is about to graduate from high school. While he waits to find out if he will receive a scholarship to Georgetown University, he finds himself in a difficult dilemma over a playground basketball tournament.

He must decide whether to play for and follow his widely beloved basketball coach or Birdie (Tupac Shakur), a local thug in the neighborhood. Thomas "Shep" Sheppard (Leon Robinson), a former standout player himself who now works as a high school security guard.

Kyle feels resentment towards the security guard because Kyle's own mother is falling in love with Shep. Coincidentally, Kyle's coach also wants Shep to coach his team when he feels it is time for him to retire. It is later revealed to Kyle that Shep is Birdie's older brother.

Kyle makes a decision to run with Birdie's team until he decided to come back to his old team, because of Birdie's wrongful actions against Flip (Bernie Mac) and Kyle's friend Bugaloo (Marlon Wayans).

In the tournament, both Kyle's and Birdie's teams march to the finals, with Kyle's team playing solid team basketball, while Birdie's team plays a very thuggish style. Before the finals, Birdie threatens Kyle, demanding Kyle to throw away the game so that Birdie's team would win.

Kyle is brutalized throughout the game with Birdie's team having a solid lead, and is injured. Shep (unable to watch anymore), steps in the game in Kyle's place despite being aggressively attacked throughout. Shep helps the team come back, and in the final seconds, passes the ball to Kyle, who hits the game winner.

After the loss, Birdie orders Motaw (Wood Harris), his star player and gang member, to kill Kyle. Shep protects Kyle and is shot while Motaw is shot dead by security. Birdie is later killed by Bugaloo as revenge for previous humiliations.

In the end, Kyle is revealed to have gotten the scholarship to Georgetown University and during a televised game, Kyle hits the game winner while a recovered Shep watches with a smile.

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Duane Martin as Kyle, a talented basketball player who is determined to be accepted to Georgetown University, to play for their basketball team. He is seen as cocky and hot tempered but later changes his ways during the course of the film.
  • Leon Robinson as Shep, a quiet bitter, introvert who used an incredible high school basketball player. He was later arrested after his best friend, Nutso, accidentally jumps off a high rise building while playing basketball.
  • Tupac Shakur as Birdie, the local drug dealer and the film's antagonist. He is Shep's younger brother who secretly wants Shep to join him in his illegal empire. He later bribes Kyle to play for his team. Tupac's character was highly compared to Scarface.
  • Marlon Wayans as Bugaloo, Kyle's womanizing yet goofy best friend who spent a year in juvenille detention for an unknown crime. He is often bullied by Birdie and most of his gang members.
  • Bernie Mac as Flip Johnson, a crack addicted homeless man who used to play basketball alongside with Shep in high school. He is occasionally harassed by Kyle, Bugaloo and Motaw.
  • David Bailey as Rollins
  • Tonya Pinkins as Mailika
  • Wood Harris as Motaw, Birdie's youngest lietunant and star player on his team. He is a homicidal psychopath who will kill anyone with no second thought nor remorse.
  • Shawn Michael Howard as Bobby, Kyle's shy and soft-spoken friend who plays in the basketball tournament.
  • Henry Simmons as Starnes
  • Matthew Guletz as Nutso
  • Michael Rispoli as Richie
  • Byron Minns as Monrow
  • Bill Raftery as Himself
  • James Williams as Speedy
  • John Thompson as Himself

Production[edit | edit source]

"Above the Rim" was filmed in July 1993.

Allen Payne was the original choice to portray the role of Kyle Watson, but he was rejected by Pollack in favor of Duane Martin.

The film was shot in Harlem with various scenes in the movie filmed at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in East Harlem.

Some of the basketball scenes were filmed at Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, NY.

Box Office[edit | edit source]

"Above the Rim" was released on March 23, 1994, grossing $3,738,800 during its opening weekend debuting at #5, behind films such as "D2: The Mighty Ducks," "The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult," "The Paper" and "Schindler's List."

At the end of its theatrical run, it had grossed a total of $16,192,320.

Critical Reception[edit | edit source]

"Above the Rim" holds a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 19 reviews.

Peter Travers stated, "It's Shakur who steals the show. The rapper's offscreen legal problems are well known, but there's no denying his power as an actor."

Variety said, "A fine cast and the movie's general energy can't overcome that mix of cliches and technical flaws, which should conspire to prevent any high flying at the box office."

Accolades[edit | edit source]

1995 MTV Movie Awards

  • Best Movie Song: "Regulate" by Warren G (nominated)

Trailer[edit | edit source]

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