Coincidence. Synchronicity. Fate. Movies like Magnolia, Crash and Babel tell us life’s a giant jigsaw puzzle, an interwoven cat’s cradle of chance, random incidents and interconnected destiny. The Air I Breathe is the latest entry in the Multi-Strand Ensemble Movie and it’s so preposterously pretentious it threatens respiratory failure.
Four lives are thrown together: Forest Whitaker’s desperate stockbroker gambles everything on an 8/1 cert and ends up in hock to vicious gangster ‘Fingers’ (Andy Garcia), who likes snipping debtors’ digits with secateurs. His enforcer is Brendan Fraser, a brooding hardman who has the ability to see (but not change) the future. His clairvoyance mainly gives him an edge when brawling in alleyways (“It’s like playing a videogame in your head; you know all the moves”). So far, so unusual. Then into the mix is thrown a troubled popstar (Sarah Michelle Gellar) whose dazzling beauty makes Fraser lose his powers of futurology; and a flaky ER doctor (Kevin Bacon) with just 24 hours to save his lost love (Julie Delpy) from a snake bite...
For this to work, the story blocks are supposed to fit together Tetris-style to make a greater whole. Except they don’t. Though Fraser’s future-haunted thug intrigues – his whorehouse ruck alongside the boss’s pussy-mad nephew (Emile Hirsch, outstanding) proves the movie’s sole highlight – debut director Jieho Lee shoots everything like it’s a Tommy Hilfiger ad and mainlines artistic pretension. Each character is named after the four pillars of life in Chinese philosophy: Happiness, Sorrow, Pleasure and Love (Garcia’s Fingers bucks the trend, but then his name’s already silly enough…).
Meanwhile, navel-gazing voiceover dialogue imitates self-help manuals (“Where does change come from and how do we recognise it when it does?”) and the glassy-eyed cast try to top one another in the over-acting stakes (Bacon wins hands down, his desperate doc bugging out with hysteria). Even at 95 minutes it’s a yawn-a-thon. Deep and meaningful? Stop and take a breath…
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Four lives intersect to "so-what?" effect as wannabe auteur Lee tries to gate-Crash the multi-strand storytelling genre. More arse than art, it's only enlivened by Fraser's clairvoyant brawler. Pity his character didn't get more room to breathe.