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Ben Affleck plays Phil Knight in "Air." Photo courtesy of IMDb.

REVIEW: ‘Air’ is certainly a movie with a plot, but not much else

If I had to pick an up-and-coming film trend bound to dominate both theaters and streaming platforms for the next couple of years, it would have to be the “nostalgia-ridden biopic featuring varyingly successful creative choices that feel subversive and fun for a subgenre largely dedicated to recounting real life stories.”

This could describe a number of films released in recent years (2022’s “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” 2023’s “Tetris” and “Paint”). This list certainly includes “Air,” a film that is, if not anything else, moderately entertaining.

As the title suggests, “Air” is about Nike’s attempt to sign basketball legend Michael Jordan to an exclusive shoe deal and the creation of the “Air Jordan” brand.

The film reteams iconic duo Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Damon takes on the lead role of Sonny Vacarro with Affleck portraying Nike co-founder and CEO Phil Knight while also stepping behind the camera to direct the feature. The rest of the cast are characters you’ll vaguely remember doing something kind of funny at some point in the movie.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention that this movie takes place in 1984 — something that the movie never forgets to remind you. Between every silly one-liner and each “Oh my god, how are we ever going to sign Michael Jordan,” there are at least five overt references to the time period, in case the “1984” bold text at the beginning of the movie and the opening montage of various pop culture happenings of the ‘80s, or even the Michael Jordan entering his rookie season in the NBA, were not enough.

Back to the cast, one person I forgot to mention is Viola Davis, who plays Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan’s mom. Davis is the best thing about this movie, although that’s also the case with just about any film she’s in. In every scene, it’s nearly impossible to tell what Davis is thinking, safeguarding her true thoughts to protect her on-screen son from predatory shoe industry bigwigs. It’s a shame the rest of the cast never gets off the bench and decides to play at her level.

Unfortunately, there are only two scenes where Davis actually delivers a substantial amount of dialogue. It’s a strange feeling: a runtime of an hour and 52 minutes feels refreshingly short when three hours is slowly becoming the industry standard. However, the film feels too short: time that we could have spent with Davis and Damon discussing Jordan’s future at Nike is wasted reminding the audience it’s 1984 (remember, it’s 1984) and showing Affleck’s bare feet.

The rest of the film’s elements are strictly functional. The cinematography shows us what’s happening; the music provides fine moments of filling space when there’s no dialogue; Affleck certainly directed the actors, and everyone hit their marks. It all works, but I wished Affleck and crew would have shot a bit more from the 3-point line instead of playing it safe in the paint.

The most important thing about this film took place behind the scenes. The film is the first movie to be produced and released through Damon and Affleck’s “Artists Equity” company. The goal of the company is to spread the profits made by a film to more of the creatives involved, not just the writers, directors and actors, according to Variety.

This is relatively obvious, as the film is essentially a commercial for the company: equity is always a fantastic goal to strive for, but debuting with a film whose climactic decision hinges on the equity of Jordan’s shoe deal feels a little off-putting.

But when the shot clock finally wound down and I was taken back to 2023 (because the film takes place in 1984), I did find myself entertained. Does the movie only really prove that Damon and Affleck can make a movie with next-to-no thought put into it? Yes. Is a movie made by Damon and Affleck that features a fantastic Viola Davis going to be better than most other movies that release this year? Also yes. And if at the end of the day, everyone’s getting their fair share and you’re left entertained, who’s to complain?

John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @JohnSnott 

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