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The Air Up There

Directed by Paul M. Glaser. Starring Kevin Bacon, Charles Gitonga Maina.

REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Jan. 7, 1994

The time-worn formula of the underdog surpassing all odds meets a premise reeking of cultural imperialism that takes basketball mania a bit too far. A self-assured, fast-talking coach at a Catholic college named Jimmy Dolan (Bacon) blows a major recruiting deal, only to discover -- in a wine-fueled daze at a faculty dinner -- a glimmer of a new prospect (Maina) who just happens to be depicted playing a mean game of B-ball in a shot from a film concerning the college's latest missionary efforts with the Winabe tribe in Africa. Before you can say “slam dunk,” Dolan is on his way to Kenya to convince this born-to-be sports superstar, by any means possible, to sign on the dotted line. But, no matter how cute or clever Dolan appears in his outwardly innocent agenda, there are still ambiguous underlying implications to suggest that his character represents yet another unwelcome and unnecessary intrusion into the Third World by an Industrial Nation. Just as in centuries past, Dolan wants to exploit a native person's abilities solely for the benefit of modern Eurocentric culture, namely the glory of a potential college basketball conference championship. And when Dolan's intrusion heats up a land dispute between a local, sleazy gangster (who revels in the invasion of ESPN and other aspects of modern technology to the area) and the Winabe, the film trivializes the fate of the poorer Winabe on the outcome between them and the gangster's goon squad team in a do-or-die basketball game. This wild jumper misses the hoop.
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