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Brandon Judell

The Air that I Breathe: Less Philosophy and a Little More Oxygen Needed?
Brendan Fraser and Sarah Michelle Gellar in " The Air That I Breathe."

Review of "The Air That I Breathe"
Director: Jieho Lee

Writers: Bob DeRosa and Jieho
Cinematography: Walt Lloyd
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Bacon, Forest Whitaker, Emile Hirsch, Andy Garcia, Cecilia Suarez, Julie Delpy

There's a Stephen King collection of short stories--I believe it's Everything's Eventual--where the "grandmaster of horror" reveals the stimulus for each tale in the book. Instead of enhancing the reading experience, the opposite effect is achieved: there's a diminishment of the riches. The mundaneness of each revelation actually winds up being more creepy than the King narrative each accompanies.

The same outcome occurs with Jieho Lee's highly entertaining and richly acted action film. Critics are reviewing the production notes and the director's ever-so-intense spiritual pronouncements instead of the movie.

Take Stephen Holden's critique for The New York Times: "The Air I Breathe is an ingenious contraption that holds your attention for as long as it whirs and clicks like a mechanized Rubik's Cube." Fine so far.

Then Holden adds that the film "smothers in it own pretensions. Among other things, Mr. Lee declares, it is a film noir variation of The Wizard of Oz and an exploration of the theme of character as destiny. Whew! That's an awful lot of concepts for one movie to juggle."

On the feature's excellently designed website (http://www.theairibreathemovie.com/main.htm), it's noted that the characters "are weaved together in an existential study in luck, both good and bad . . . . [The film] dramatizes an ancient Chinese proverb that evokes life's four emotional cornerstones: happiness, pleasure, sorrow and love."

Now one sees why the Coen brothers are so close-lipped about what their films are about. Allow what's on the screen to speak for itself. Unless, of course, you're Peter Greenaway, and then by all means keep talking. Otherwise you can wind up hanging yourself.

Well, back to Lee's deft offering. There are four interconnected stories here.

The first showcases a pathetically despondent bank employee (Forest Whitaker) who tries to change his life by betting on a fixed horse race with money belonging to a vicious gangster named Fingers (Andy Garcia).

In the second, Fingers' main man (Brendan Fraser) is proved an invaluable employee because he can see the future. But if you know what is going to happen is there any joy left in life?

Next, an emotionally damaged, yet upcoming, pop star, Trista (Sarah Michelle Gellar), discovers her management contract has been "sold" to Fingers.

And finally, Kevin Bacon plays a doctor who's trying to save the life of his one great love who's been bitten by a rare snake.

Beholding how all these storylines are interconnected is part of the joy of The Air I Breathe. Additionally, the acting is impeccable, the cinematography by Walt Lloyd is riveting, Marcelo Zarvos's score works beautifully, and the direction laudable, especially for a debut feature.

A problem does arise with the dialogue here and there. Are Lee and Bob DeRosa aiming for the wry or the righteous?

Your appreciation of this circular plotting will have a great deal to do with how tongue-in-cheek you believe the film is. If you accept Lee's exploration of modern man as a wickedly black comedy, you'll be laughing with him. If you take Lee at his word, you might at times be giggling at him.

But either way, you'll never be bored.




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