By Woody Weingarten
I hate myself for enjoying Air, the longish film journey of how 21-year-old future basketball superstar Michael Jordan signed a zillion-dollar contract with Nike for his own line of basketball shoes.
Why? Well, because my delight, and that of millions of others presumably, stems from the feel-goodness, underdog-winningness, and Black fairytale-ness of the star-studded Amazon original — despite the movie I’m helping pay for is little more than a 112-minute, 100% unabashed commercial for the footwear company.
Watching the Matt Damon-headliner, I feel, is almost as bad as if I were 17 and constantly wearing Nike’s shoes, clothing, and accessories (all of which make sure no one can miss the name and/or Swoosh logo in deep red or ebony).
I gave up counting how many times the brand or shoe popped up in the fluffy comedy-drama, which also stars Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother, Deloris, and in secondary roles Damon’s longtime buddy Ben Affleck (who directed the movie) as Nike’s co-founder and chief exec, John Bateman as the corporation’s marketing director, and Chris Tucker as a mediating former player.
Rarely can I forget that Damon is Damon, but as usual he’s easy to watch — this time with protruding gut as Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s consummate player-recruiter — because it never feels like he’s acting. In contrast, I always know Davis is acting, but her chops are normally so much fun to see, I don’t mind (here, she’s even better since she’s not doing her typical chewing up of the scenery).
In truth, all the acting’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom…
My guilty pleasure in liking Affleck’s kiss-kiss ode to Jordan, not incidentally, is based mostly on its high energy and high-polished entertainment. I also found it effortless to enjoy the soundtrack, which features tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and Chaka Khan. And pure joy can spring from a comedy scene accentuating an eardrum-busting, obscene phone conversation.
But those looking for Jordan, or his iconic ball-handling and scoring, will walk away unhappy. He’s only in a few short clips and mentioned in headlines at the end. The actor playing him in Air is hidden from sight most of the time (you do get occasional glimpses of an ear or the back of his head).
Viewers who desire ethics lessons will likewise be disappointed. The aim here seems to be to ignore philosophy and instead pay tribute to business wheeling-and-dealing, winning, and, especially, to money-making.
Still, Air didn’t lose one bit of my enthusiasm by veering from the truth. I didn’t mind at all, for instance, that the real Sonny never traveled to the Jordan home in North Carolina, that Jordan hadn’t been the first athlete to get a piece of the merch pie (tennis players had been there, done that), or that he ultimately signed for half a million dollars a year, not $250,000.
I also didn’t care that Air deemphasized or altogether skipped over Jordan’s many controversies and difficulties, which are, to say the least, legion.
It’s probable that I’ll never be mega-rich like Jordan, who’s already netted more than $1 billion from his Nike endorsements, or like a corporate powerhouse such as Nike, whose logo symbolizes not only the winged goddess of victory but the sound of speed, movement, power and motivation.
“So what?” I say — their film was fun to watch.!
Air is still playing in a handful of movie houses around the Bay Area but it has also start streaming on Amazon Prime.
ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, he is the author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates; and Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/
|"...these exceptional actors who, with heart and talent, ever so briefly turn a story about capitalism into a referendum on the soul of a nation..."
|The New York Times
|"Air"...is effortlessly entertaining..."
|“Air”...it’s old-fashioned in the best sense: solid, confident, simple, straightforward and entirely entertaining. It’s the work of an intelligent classicist..."
|San Francisco Chronicle
|"...Air is a light, well-paced film that makes two hours fly by. It will leave you thinking, ‘wow, I can’t believe I got so invested in a pair of shoes’..."
|The Film Magazine
|"["Air" is]...an underdog story with the greatest basketball player of all time at its heart...."