Picks and Pans Review: Above the Rim

updated 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Duane Martin, Leon, Tonya Pinkins, Tupac Shakur, Marlon Wayans

It's not saying a lot to call this the Most Valuable Picture among this season's crop of basketball movies. But convoluted, egregiously violent and vulgar though it is, director Jeff Pollack's first feature at least has a serious point: the damaging tendency of inner-city black youngsters to become obsessed with basketball.

Martin, only 6 feet tall but a former player at New York University who turned to acting after he couldn't cut it as a pro, plays a star point guard at a high school in an unspecified city. He's an arrogant, selfish punk of a player, but he's being scouted by Georgetown University as well as by a street team led by a scummy drug dealer, the rapper Shakur.

Pollack shows little feel for the game, displaying a lazy tendency to treat dunks as the only interesting plays in basketball. The game sequences are ludicrously violent.

Pinkins plays Martin's concerned single mother with more energy than subtlety, especially after she gets involved with Leon, a former local basketball hero who has returned to the neighborhood to work as a security guard. Wayans, flouncing like a female impersonator, is Martin's best pal. Shakur, affecting a Wesley Snipes hauteur with none of Snipes's style, makes a flimsy kind of thug.

Pollack and cowriter Barry Cooper throw in a bundle of melodramatics that beg the central question of whether Martin and Leon might have been better off not being able to play basketball. C'est le cinéma: all's mediocre that ends mediocre. (R)

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