Review: “Air” is Predictable, Generic, and Entertaining

Spoiler alert, Michael Jordan signed with Nike.

How do you wring drama and tension out of a foregone conclusion? Ben Affleck’s Air manages to make a billion-dollar company into a scrappy underdog with the foresight to sign the greatest basketball player on Earth before he played a single game. Is it a victor’s view of history? Yes. Does it really matter when a film is this entertaining? No.

Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, a talent scout working for Nike in 1984. At the time, Nike was a company built on running shoes with little interest or resources to spend on their basketball division. With the NBA draft upcoming, Sonny decides to push all his chips in on Jordan against the wishes of the basketball marketing chief Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck).

In order to attract Jordan, Sonny goes around Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) and speaks directly to Jordan’s parents James (Julius Tennon) and more importantly Deloris (Viola Davis). With the pressure on, Sonny must deliver for himself and for the future of the Nike brand.

As with all true stories, you have to make a bargain with yourself what to believe and what is most likely not true. Did Vaccaro actually go to North Carolina to meet with Jordan’s parents? Yes he did. Did Jordan’s mother personally negotiate the final terms of a shoe deal? Probably not. But the bare truth of the facts aren’t important. Affleck’s best attribute as a director is the ability to maintain tension despite already knowing the answers. The audience is so wrapped up in the entertainment, the tension is built in the expectation of catharsis of the deal eventually getting done.

Air has such a reverence for Jordan and Nike, it borders on propaganda. Even Jordan’s faults are given a pass. There is an entire sequence where Jordan is told by Sonny about how the world will attempt to tear him down, set to the headlines Jordan actually made. There’s no criticism, it’s about perseverance. As long as you don’t view the film as gospel, it’s fairly harmless.

Damon is solid, if unremarkable. His character is a mechanism to introduce this story to more interesting and dynamic characters. Affleck builds Knight as a fully-formed character that isn’t reduced to his eccentricities. He does seem like the type of guy who could build a billion-dollar empire and still be stranger than most normal people. Bateman plays a fairly stock character on paper, but he does have a few standout scenes that give his character a surprising amount of depth and vulnerability.

Davis is the premiere supporting performance. Her warmth, knowledge, and gravitas is perfect for what the film needs. She doesn’t play a woman on her own side, she is a woman who knows the truth of how special her son is and wants to do right by him. Messina gets to be loud and abrasive, which he is having a lot of fun with. Matthew Maher also does well as the man who designed Jordan’s first shoe.

Is the film perfect? By no means. The amount of obvious 80s needle drops gets tedious. There are no odd left turns or unpredictability in the story, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s the film you expect it to be, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Air is a blast. Regardless of any problems the film might have, it doesn’t matter when you make everything this entertaining and engaging.

Air opens in theaters on Wednesday, April 5th
Score: 3.5/5.0

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