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THE AIR UP THERE. Directed by Paul M. Glaser; written by Max Apple; produced by Ted Field, Rosalie Swedlin and Robert W. Cort for Hollywood Pictures. Starring Kevin Bacon and Charles Gitonga Maina. Rated PG.


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For the kind of movie it is, The Air Up There is practically flawless. That kind of movie is, of course, the sports romance.

Now I don't mean the "love" kind of romance, except as it pertains to love of a game (in this case, basketball). But the story follows all the usual formulas until a happy ending is had by all—at least all of the good guys.

The Air Up There actually employs several formulas (usually a bad sign, but it works here). There's underdog team wins big game, conflicting loyalties give way to beautifully simple solutions, family ties win out over ambition and greed, young hot shot learns to succeed in the more mature role of mentor, and, even, big business loses out to small-scale animal husbantry.

None of these plot angles bears intense scrutiny, to be sure. But, then, viewers of movies such as this aren't expected to scrutinize, just enjoy.

Probably the most important thing in a movie like this is having appealing characters. No problem here. Bacon is at his best in roles like wannabe coach Jimmy Dolan. An ex-college star, he's now an assistant coach who's too idealistic (or too impatient) to pander to potential all-American recruits with big egos.

But he has a hunch about an African kid he sees in the background of a video. Naturally, the hunch proves right on target as he discovers a natural in Saleh (Maina), son of a chief in a remote Kenyan village.

Maina is quite a discovery himself. With a smile as impressive as his dunk shot, he probably hasn't made his last movie. Unless some real-life Dolan gets hold of him first, that is.

Basketball fans will especially like the roundball action in The Air Up There. There's a lot of it, for one thing, and it's well-staged and fun, from the practices to the big game.

But even moviegoers who usually don't care much about the game would be hard-pressed not to respond to the movie's energy and charm. Yes, and even its predictability.

January 19, 1994

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