Jimmy Dolan is a college basketball coach who wants a big promotion. To get it, he needs to make a dramatic find. He ends up deep in Africa, hoping to recruit Saleh, a huge basketball prodigy Jimmy glimpsed in a home movie. But Saleh is the chief's son and has responsibilities at home, since the tribe's land is threatened by a mining company with its own hotshot basketball team.Written by
Actor Llo Mutumbo is NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutumbos brother. See more »
Mifundo (Ilo Mutombo) speaks Lingala and not Swahili, the local language in Kenya and spoken by all the other African characters speak Swahili.
Lingaga is the language of western DRCongo, and would never be spoken in Kenya. See more »
You came halfway around the world to watch me play this basketball?
That's what I said.
(pointing to his head) Are you healthy up here?
Never said that.
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So, without delving too deeply into the annals of "worst-to-first" sports movies, or counting off the multitude of "cultures in contact" stories, let me simply say this about the movie, "The Air Up There:" it succeeds, quite well in the mind of this critic, at what it sets out to accomplish. It is thematic, formulaic, and a tad predictable in parts, but none of that degrades its overall quality as a film. In fact, despite this movie getting lost somewhere in the recent history of film (and being overshadowed by similar movies such as "The Mighty Ducks"), I genuinely believe it to be the best movie of that genre, maybe ever, but certainly of this era.
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
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