The Air I Breathe
dir Jieho Lee
scr Jieho Lee, Bob DeRosa
with Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Bacon, Andy Garcia, Julie Delpy, Emile Hirsch, Clark Gregg, Kelly Hu, Evan Parke, John Cho, Todd Stashwick
release US 25.Jan.08, UK 16.May.08
07/US 1h35
The Air I Breathe
Pleasure and Sorrow: Fraser and Gellar

whitaker bacon garcia
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Air I Breathe Slick and watchable but far too tidy, this gimmicky four-part drama is packed with very strong scenes, but feels like an over-constructed film school project.

Happiness (Whitaker) is a banker bored by his lonely life. To stir things up, he borrows from the vicious mobster Fingers (Garcia), places a risky bet and upends his life completely. Pleasure (Fraser) is Fingers' right-hand man, a thug who can see the future until he falls for the pop-star Sorrow (Gellar), who Fingers has asked him to guard when she tries to get out of her contract. And Love (Bacon) is a doctor who will do anything to save the woman he loves: the wife (Delpy) of his best friend.

If the title and character names aren't enough to signpost this film's pretentiousness, the overriding theme will, especially since it's stated at the outset: where does change come from and how do we recognise it? Metaphorical butterflies and cocoons tell us that it's about people being reborn in some metaphorical way. Sigh. Broken into four out-of-sequence chapters, the script is so packed with random, quirky plot points that we know everything will fit together in the end. But it's badly forced, with too many subthemes and offbeat touches, plus characters who feel vague and undefined.

At least the strong cast manages to make these people intriguing, adding sardonic humour and attitude wherever they can. Fraser is terrific as a guy with the power to make peoples' lives better or worse, except his own. Gellar adds a nice emotional kick as a woman whose soul has been sold to the devil against her will. And Hirsch adds a dryly cocky spark as Fingers' annoying nephew.

Meanwhile, director-cowriter Lee keeps the film lively and edgy, with a solid sense of humour and some nicely kinetic action. But nothing feels very likely, so the attempt to build tension backfires, leaving it rather dull. And the characters are so sketchy and unsympathetic that we never engage with their stories. In the end, the film is a flurry of intriguing ideas that never amount to anything beyond a substandard bag-of-cash thriller. Lee gets points for ambition, and the impressive casting, but that's about it.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 2.Apr.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall