A couple of years back, when the best-picture Oscar went to Crash, the motion picture academy sent out a signal to ambitious filmmakers: Make a movie full of loosely related episodes, cast it with stars (or near-stars) and you, too, might take home a golden statuette.
Jieho Lee, the director and co-writer of The Air I Breathe, appears to have gotten the message, however mistaken and unintended it may have been. (The other half of the writing team is Bob DeRosa, formerly of Orlando comedy troupe THEM and now based in L.A.; he’ll attend the 6:30 p.m. Feb. 29 and 3:30 p.m. March 1 screenings at Enzian Theater.) Lee’s film fits the Crash formula, although it’s hardly a prizewinner – which is not to say it’s awful. The movie takes itself way too seriously, and it doesn’t add up to much, but, nevertheless, it’s borderline entertaining. The performances have a certain tanginess. Perhaps the stars felt freer than usual because, thanks to the film’s episodic structure, none of them had to carry the entire movie.
The first of four episodes focuses on a mousy, unhappy businessman (Forest Whitaker, convincingly pathetic) who overhears a tip on a horse race. He tries to change his life by taking a loan from mobsters and betting it all on a horse. Along the way, this man encounters a mob henchman (Brendan Fraser, strong and often silent), and we eventually discover that he can see the future. The second section of the film concerns what happens when the mob kingpin (a commanding Andy Garcia) assigns this henchman the task of keeping an eye on his out-of-control nephew (Emile Hirsch, amusingly amok).
In part four, an up-and-coming singer (Sarah Michelle Gellar, effectively distraught) abruptly learns that the kingpin has acquired her management contract. She wants nothing to do with him but discovers that his desire to control her career is the kind of offer you can’t refuse.
The final segment concerns a doctor (a properly pensive Kevin Bacon) who loves a woman (Julie Delpy, appropriately angelic) who suddenly finds herself at death’s door. It’s up to the doctor to devise a plan to save her – a plan that somehow includes the singer from the previous segment. And to keep the story spinning round and round, it turns out that the singer has a connection to the businessman from the first segment.
If this sounds rather contrived, it is. And the various parts of the story don’t really fit together. In particular, the hocus pocus about the henchman’s ESP doesn’t fit with the otherwise realistic material. But, again, the performances give the film a lift. And if the accomplished, eclectic cast was not enough to put The Air I Breathe in contention for a major award, it certainly could help to make you a winner the next time you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.