Neither the basketball action nor the African scenery enlivens THE AIR UP THERE, a plodding comedy that retreads every cliche ever seen in sports and fish-out-of-water movies.
Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon), an assistant coach at St. Joseph's, journeys to Africa to recruit a young man he spotted playing basketball in the background of a video about the college's missionary work overseas. After taking an unsettling bus ride, being ridiculed by the natives, and finally
hitchhiking, Dolan finally reaches Winabi, the hometown of the player he seeks. The young man, Saleh (Charles Gitonga Maina), turns out to be the son of the tribal chief, who is grooming his son to succeed him. Dolan stays in Winabi to bond with the locals, hoping that he can persuade chief Uradu
(Winston Ntshona) to let his son go to America. He gets embroiled in Winabi's battle with Mingori, a neighboring village run by a hefty businessman named Nyaga (Mabutho "Kid" Sithole). Nyaga has been stealing the villagers' cattle in an effort to drive them off their land, which he wants to mine
for copper. The two tribes decide to settle their differences once and for all on the basketball court. If the Winabi win, the Mingori will leave them and their cattle alone, and Saleh will go to St. Joe's. In order to play for the Winabi team, Dolan must officially join the tribe, which requires
him to climb a mountain in a downpour and undergo a stomach-lacerating ritual. He succeeds and helps lead the ragtag Winabi to victory.
Although rife with cliches, THE AIR UP THERE suffers most from being unfunny. Almost every joke falls flat, and numerous running gags grow cloyingly predictable. The movie also relies heavily on obvious fish-out-of-water incidents, such as Dolan's run-ins with animals and his bout with
dysentery, all too familiar from previous films with the same theme.
THE AIR UP THERE has the usual musical montage of scenes in which the underdogs are transformed from hapless klutzes into lean-and-mean competitors. It has misfortunes befalling our heroes during the big game: key players get hurt, referees' calls go against them. It has athletes experiencing an
epiphany that goes beyond win-or-lose: caught up in the tribal loyalties, Dolan throws away his beloved college championship--his raison d'etre--and tells Saleh that the game "isn't about you going back with me anymore." And, in typical sports-movie style, the Winabi trail until the last minute of
the game, which is won by a miracle play at the buzzer. There's even a heart-warming conclusion to a subplot in the middle of the game: Saleh's brother Halawi (Nigel Miguel), who was disowned for fraternizing with Nyaga, returns to play for Winabi. In short, it's pure formula from start to
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: PG
- Review: Neither the basketball action nor the African scenery enlivens THE AIR UP THERE, a plodding comedy that retreads every cliche ever seen in sports and fish-out-of-water movies. Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon), an assistant coach at St. Joseph's, journeys to Af… (more)