Kevin Bacon, Julie Delpy, Brendan Fraser, Andy Garcia, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Emile Hirsch and Forest Whitaker all star in The Air I Breathe, a new drama recently released to DVD. With a cast like that, it's a little surprising that ThinkFilm didn't give this film a wider release (it opened in limited theaters in January). Beyond the marketing potential of this Crash-like picture, though, it's completely understandable why most people have never heard of this picture, nor ever will.
The Air I Breathe follows several tragic characters whose lives intersect at some point or another. Perhaps a blatant rip-off of the Oscar-winning film mentioned in the previous paragraph, Air has a grittier, darker tone with a more crime-oriented - and thus a less social commentary - focus. We first get introduced to a businessman (Whitaker) who loses everything and then some on a horse race and finds himself in deep debt to a local gangster (Garcia). The nephew of the gangster (Hirsch) heads out on the town to get laid, much to the disapproval of the bodyguard assigned to protect him (Fraser). A rising starlet of a singer (Gellar) is at the top of the world, until her manager sells her to the same cunning gangster to pay off his own debt. And so on and so forth.
The movie, directed and co-written by Jieho Lee, has clear potential, though it never takes off. All of the actors involve deliver decent performances, but none get the chance to establish strong characters. The screenplay tries to cram so much into its 95-minute running time that it never allows for the character development a film like this so desperately needs. None of the characters are particularly interesting or likable, and every storyline seems rushed. It's as if Lee took a bunch of short films, clumped them together and figured out a way to tie their stories together without a particular purpose.
The stories themselves are decent, though none are especially inspiring or interest. Lee tries to merge a crime thriller with general drama, and the results are mixed. The gangster-oriented stories, especially the one revolving around Fraser, are pretty good, but the Gellar and Bacon storylines are woefully under-developed. The Bacon segment is especially dull and a waste of good talent. Then again, Whitaker's story is so sudden and fast paced that it's practically impossible to connect with his character.
Ultimately, Air has its moments and is certainly a watchable film, but the ensemble approach isn't very effective. Given the awkward editing and superficial screenplay, the movie needed another hour to develop its characters to an acceptable degree.
If you liked Crash, Babel, 21 Grams or any one of the many ensemble, interconnected-character movies that have been released over the last several years, Air works on a rudimentary level. It moves along at a fast enough pace and offers up some interesting moments. Dig deeper, though, and you'll see that it pales in comparison to better, greater films, and understand why ThinkFilm never took this one wide.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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