According to Brendan Fraser’s superpowered hitman, knowing the future is a discipline that involves “seeing things you don’t want to, and just moving on,” and that perfectly describes my job as it relates to Jieho Lee’s The Air I Breathe, a breathtakingly bad Altman rip-off that seems like a wholly unintentional parody of multi-narrative films. A superficially snazzy opening credit sequence is the first tip-off to the emptiness of this entire affair, which is nominally based on a Chinese proverb concerning life’s founding sensations—Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love—but is instead pieced together with dim-witted fortune-cookie adages. In what passes for cleverness, the protagonists of Lee’s four intertwined stories secure their given emotion (which they’re also—ugh—named after) in scenarios where the opposite would normally be felt, so that Forest Whitaker’s accountant, Happiness, finds contentment by ditching his mundane life via robbing a bank and being gunned down in a blaze of glory. Deep, right? There’s more where that came from in the three subsequent segments featuring Fraser’s hitman, Pleasure, his gangster boss Fingers (Andy Garcia), Fingers’s cocky nephew Tony (Emile Hirsch), pop star Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Dr. Love (Kevin Bacon), all of whose paths cross in ways monumentally contrived and silly. Lee’s scripting is third-rate, his characters one-dimensional clichés prone to spout platitudes in embarrassing voiceover (sample groaner: “Sometimes the things you can’t change, change you”), and his direction is no better, marked by an over-saturated color scheme, gimmicky transitional wipes, and hectic zooms that are often accompanied by loud sound effects. There’s an ocean-wide gap between Air I Breathe‘s self-assured air of profundity and its actual, empty goofiness, which stretches from a pitiful remark about Krull (hey, an obscure pop-culture reference!) to an epically vapid tête-à-tête between Fraser and Gellar. Misbegotten at every turn, Lee’s debut is an abyss of crying, screaming hysterics, made no more bearable by the fact that—for all the wrong reasons—it’s also hysterical.
- 97 min
- Jieho Lee
- Jieho Lee, Bob DeRosa
- Kevin Bacon, Forest Whitaker, Andy Garcia, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brendan Fraser, Julie Delpy, Emile Hirsch
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