You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Air I Breathe

In tyro helmer Jieho Lee's morosely pretentious multistrander, "The Air I Breathe," Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kevin Bacon portray, respectively, Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow and Love -- the four pillars of life, according to an ancient Chinese proverb.

Happiness - Forest Whitaker Pleasure - Brendan Fraser Sorrow - Sarah Michelle Gellar Love - Kevin Bacon Fingers - Andy Garcia Gina - Julie Delpy Tony - Emile Hirsch

In tyro helmer Jieho Lee’s morosely pretentious multistrander, “The Air I Breathe,” Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kevin Bacon portray, respectively, Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow and Love — the four pillars of life, according to an ancient Chinese proverb. But given the pic’s nihilism, overall air of desperation and sped-up, fragmented HD effects, viewers would be hard-pressed to tell these emotions apart without the chapter headings. Stellar thesps gamely strive to elevate the one-note material, but gravity ultimately defeats them in this relentless downer. Name cast insures distribution, but it is unclear where this darkhorse will run.

Lee and co-scripter Bob DeRosa’s loosely interwoven plots include some characters that mesh intimately while others touch tangentially, most of them clustered around Fingers (Andy Garcia), a menacing, soft-spoken moneylender legendary for exacting his pound of flesh in digits.

The curtain-raiser stars a bespectacled Whitaker, feeling suffocated by the cubicled soullessness of his stockbroker’s job. Overhearing colleagues discussing a surefire winner at the track, he follows them to a shadowy establishment owned by Fingers, in which Whitaker loses far more money than he has. To recoup, he undertakes a radically desperate act, ending with nothing more to lose and a fleeting moment of perfect liberation.

Whitaker proves convincing as the fearful functionary trapped in his own squirrel cage, and his short-lived epiphany (later reprised as it intersects with other characters’ destinies) is truly a thing of beauty. For most of his 25 minutes of screentime, though, he simply sweats and looks frantic — not much of a stretch after incarnating the mercurial Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.”

Pleasure, as paradoxically essayed by a brooding Brendan Fraser, pops up next. He can see the future in disconnected flashes, but cannot change it. Only after his preternatural vision deserts him can he fall in love (though not change expression), unfortunately with a singer (Geller) whose contract Fingers has bought in a bid to go legit.

In this segment, Fingers’ young, cocky, and splendidly despicable nephew Tony (Emile Hirsch), whom Pleasure is forced to babysit, brings a much-needed note of humor to the angst-ridden proceedings. The action in this episode at times takes on the slapstick grace of an Asian noir actioner, indicating for all-too-brief moments a more vibrant, tonally flexible film. Afterward, however, all tonal variation in the pic dies an increasingly melodramatic death.

Geller’s Sorrow, like all the other characters’ designated emotions, smacks of desperation as she struggles to hold onto Pleasure while evading Fingers’ grasp. But her desperateness pales before the insane anxiety of Love (Kevin Bacon) as he searches for a cure for the great (but unrequited) love of his life (Julie Delpy), his best friend’s wife, who has been bitten by a snake.

Though Whitaker & Co. are able to hold the script’s allegorical absurdities at bay for sustained stretches, the pileup of dour “Pilgrim’s Progress”-like moral vignettes, devoid of relevance or originality and filmed in a surprisingly characterless Mexico City posing as metropolitan America, strains both credulity and patience. With Happiness, Love and Pleasure like this, who needs depression?

Tech credits achieve an exemplary bleakness.

The Air I Breathe

Production: A NALA Films/Paul Schiff production. Produced by Emilio Diez Barroso, Darlene Caamano Loquet, Paul Schiff. Executive producers, Tai Duncan, Christopher Pratt. Directed by Jieho Lee. Screenplay by Lee, Bob DeRosa.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Walt Lloyd; editor, Robert Hoffman; music, Marcello Zarvos; production designer, Bernardo Trujillo; costume designer, Michele Michel; sound (Dolby Digital), Alec St. John, Robert Getty; casting, Mary Vernieu. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Encounters), April 30, 2007. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: Happiness - Forest Whitaker Pleasure - Brendan Fraser Sorrow - Sarah Michelle Gellar Love - Kevin Bacon Fingers - Andy Garcia Gina - Julie Delpy Tony - Emile Hirsch

More Film

  • 'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    Marvel Studios’ hotly anticipated blockbuster “Captain Marvel” will hit Chinese theaters on the same day as it debuts in North America. The Brie Larson-starring picture will release on March 8, 2019, which is also International Women’s Day. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former fighter [...]

  • Peter Rabbit trailer

    Australia Box Office Recovers, Grows 3.8% in 2018

    Gross theatrical box office in Australia grew by 3.6% in 2018, to $890 million (A$1.25 billion). The score was propelled by a rebound in the performance of the top local films. Data from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia published Tuesday showed aggregate cinema revenues recovering after a dip in 2017. While the 2018 [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. James McAvoy reprised his role [...]

  • Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama

    Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama Title 'Family Members' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patra Spanou has picked up world sales rights to “Los miembros de la familia” (Family Members), which will world premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Variety has been given an exclusive first look of the film’s trailer. The film is the second feature from writer/director Mateo Bendesky, and is produced by Agustina Costa [...]

  • Great Point Media, The Development Partnership

    Great Point Media, Development Partnership Join Forces on Slate of Movies

    Great Point Media and The Development Partnership, the development and production arm of the talent agency the Artists Partnership, are joining forces to develop, package, and co-produce multiple films, kicking off with three projects, including “Chasing Agent Freegard,” starring James Norton (“War & Peace”). “Chasing Agent Freegard,” which is being produced by “Captain Phillips” co-producer [...]

  • Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’

    Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’ Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s Miami-based FiGa Films, a leading sales agent on the independent Latin American scene, has announced the acquisition of Brazilian doc “Landless,” and released a trailer for the Costa Rican-Spanish drama “El despertar de las hormigas.” Both features will play at this year’s Berlinale Forum and come from young Latin American filmmakers making their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content