‘Air’ Review: Not the GOAT Sports Drama, Just Good Old-Fashion Fun

This has nothing to do with the film or review, but I just want it on the record that Michael Jordan is the GOAT over LeBron James every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

“Air” is the fifth directorial effort from Ben Affleck (and his first since 2016’s “Live by Night”), and follows the efforts of Nike to sign NBA rookie Michael Jordan to a shoe deal in 1984. Affleck stars alongside Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Chris Tucker, and Chris Messina.

I’m a big fan of Ben Affleck, and think he is one of the more underrated directors working today. He had a slip up with “Live by Night,” but “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” and “Argo” (the latter of which won him an Oscar for Best Picture) all rank as some of the better adult dramas of the 2000s. “Air” is a different type of project for Affleck to take on, but thanks to a witty script, charismatic cast, and just the right touch of 80s nostalgia, it delivers on some good old-fashion dad movie fun.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have been buddies for over 40 years, dating back to before they won an Oscar for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.” They haven’t shared the screen too much since the early 2000s, but have gotten back together in recent years, including co-writing and co-starring in “The Last Duel,” one of 2021’s best films. They again share a certain camaraderie in “Air,” with Affleck playing Nike CEO Phil Knight and Damon portraying Sonny Vaccaro, the salesman who comes up with the idea to build a shoe specifically around Michael Jordan. The two men have a mutual respect for one another but also trade barbs, and it leads to some of the film’s more engaging moments. Affleck has seemingly moved past his days as a leading man (and after the likes of “The Flash” and “Aquaman 2” will hang up his cape in the blockbuster genre) and has embraced being an eccentric supporting player, and it suits him (in 2021 alone he got some darkhorse awards talk for “Last Duel” and “The Tender Bar”).

Matt Damon has really always been a leading man, and this is one of his better performances in recent years. His Sonny is funny and kind but also dedicated and to-the-point (“I don’t like taking no for an answer” he tells the Jordan family after flying cross-country to pitch them in-person). He has several little monologues, including one during the final meeting, that had my theater pumped. The rest of the cast is solid, with Chris Messina chewing scenery as a vulgar sports agent and Chris Tucker, who has come out of his mini-retirement to turn in solid supporting work in the last few years, being a cheerful co-worker of Damon. Viola Davis is as solid as you’d expect her to be as Jordan’s mother, and Julius Tennon is quietly effective as James R. Jordan Sr.

The script is pretty witty, with a good blend of humor, inspirational bits, and dramatic heft. That said, things never get too intense or bleak for our Nike boys, which may leave some viewers wanting more (even when you know how a story plays out, there are still ways to make audiences sweat; just see Affleck’s “Argo” climax). At times, especially as we approach the final act, things get a little less “movie-like” and become an infomercial for Michael Jordan and Nike, but for most of the runtime things move along at a fairly snappy pace.

To avoid “distractions” and making this into a Michael Jordan biopic, Affleck made the decision to not physically depict Jordan on-screen, instead just showing him from the back and talking on the phone. At some points it’s fine, at others distracting (it’s a bit of a stretch to believe an uninterested MJ would go entire meetings without speaking or interacting with the folks in the room).

The film cost about $80 million to make, which is arguably a bit too pricey for an original film aimed at the 30+ crowd (to say nothing of the fact this was originally intended to go right to streaming on Amazon Prime, before shifting to a theatrical release). But Affleck puts that money to good use, with a great soundtrack, era-accurate cars, and detailed office spaces.

“Air” is a fairly undemanding film about the courting of one of the greatest athletes of all-time, and one that sports fans, rooters of the underdog, and sneakerheads should all enjoy. It was made by middle-aged dads, for middle-aged dads, and while it may not be as memorable as the star at the center of its story, the film is still a solid lay-up with enough to stand up and cheer about.

Critics Rating: 8/10

Amazon Studios

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s