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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that if this movie wasn't so inconsequential, it would be a lot more offensive. African customs and beliefs are trivialized, and much of the humor falls into the "isn't it cute, they speak English" camp. The movie's very premise -- that a white man has to go to Africa to save a poor tribe -- is insulting. Though aimed at older children, they're likely to drift away, like the aimless story, after the novelty of the basketball action wears off.
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What's the story?
In THE AIR UP THERE, ex-point guard Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon) has his eye on the coach's job at the college he once led to a national basketball championship. Desperate for an edge, he travels to Kenya in an effort to recruit a promising player. When he gets there he discovers that the tall and talented Saleh can't go back to America because he is the future ruler of his people. All is not well with Saleh's tribe -- a greedy businessman wants the tribe's land. So, it's up to J.D. to rescue the helpless clan by organizing a winner-take-all basketball game. If Jimmy is to play in the game, he must go through a series of religious rituals to become one of the tribe. Not surprisingly, the team wins, Saleh comes back to America, and Jimmy lands the head coaching position.
Is it any good?
The air up there must be pretty thin stuff, because whoever thought up this offensive comedy was surely lacking oxygen. The story strains all credulity. Even audiences of a lightweight comedy will balk at the idea that an African tribe would risk everything on a basketball game. The bulk of the movie's humor is of the juvenile or gross-out variety. While Bacon is not given much to work with, he doesn't even deliver on the basics. He is an unconvincing dribbler and his comic timing is weak. This actor has done much better work just about everywhere else.
Given the racial stereotyping, the moralizing tone of the movie is outrageous. Bacon's J.D. learns the typical Hollywood lesson about overcoming pride and figuring out that there are more important things in life than winning. Of course, then J.D. goes out and wins the big game. A 12-year-old girl was extremely unimpressed. Granted, she's probably not the movie's target audience, but her derisive laughter throughout said it all: How dumb do moviemakers think kids are?
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