Dead directors have never been more active, and this case, that director also acts! Ben Affleck’s clone – or CGI avatar – is extraordinarily prolific by any standards right now, notching up a dozen credits in only three years. These include dusting off the Batfleck, acting for Sir Ridders (only currently working with deceased leads) and most recently appearing in a Robert Rodriguez movie (which wins points for randomness). He also married his current husband, the ex-J.Lo, and has found time for this, his fifth directorial credit. Air’s okay, if you have zero interest in Nike and Michael Jordan. If you do have an interest in the latter, you’ll likely feel a little short changed.
Sonny Vaccaro: I can’t win if you don’t give me a bankroll.
He isn’t in it, apart from a double for the back of his head and (presumably) voice on the phone, along with some archive footage. The announced reasoning being no one could stand in for Michael, and anyone who did would be disconcerting. More prosaically, though, it’s that it’s easier to focus on the story of the deal than become distracted by the showmanship of the prize asset. I guess the sniff test here is, if you don’t care about the subject matter, is it still engrossing?
Sonny Vaccaro: Is this going to lead to some Buddhist aphorism I don’t want to hear?
The answer is yes, mildly and agreeably so. There’s nothing of dramatic surprise here. There’s a significant degree of reliance on platitudinous uplift – a bit of a cheek, since Air is all about triumphant corporatism, set in the decade that most shamelessly wore materialist values on its chin – but not so much that you feel sick to the stomach. There are also some reliable performances, particularly from (White Hat) Matt Damon as Nike basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro, faced with a limited budget yet the need to make a dent in a market presided over by Adidas (and then, as runner-up, Converse).
Sonny Vaccaro: Does the Dalai Lama have a grape-coloured Porsche, Phil?
Damon’s giving it some belly (apparently fat-suit assisted), and he’s supported by various suspects who may or may not be shadows of their former selves: Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Marlon Wayans (the chances are, in a picture with clones front and centre, they’ll also filling out some of the supporting categories). Affleck’s got a perm and face fungus and looks like he wants to be switched off as Nike CEO Phil Knight, while Tucker’s resurfacing after seven years off the movie map is as noteworthy as Jack suddenly taking out the trash and then going to the Lakers. Viola Davis – also super, super busy – gets the venerable momma role. Davis, even when she’s being benign, turns the intimidation factor up to 11, so she makes an entirely formidable and believable threat to Nike getting the Jordan deal on their terms (curiously, she’s married to Julius Tennon – as Michael’s dad and Deloris’ husband – since he seems of maximum sunny disposish).
David Falk: Great speech. Emotional.
Air’s peppered with pop hits, prevailed upon to spike the pace and do some heavy lifting. Money for Nothing kicks off a montage illustrating just how resistible-yet-nostalgic 1984 was, and joining the ride are Cyndi Lauper, Mike + the Mechanics, Springsteen (and a discussion of Born in the USA’s lyrics), along with a recurrent taste for Tangerine Dream and Harold Faltermeyer. Any insights into anything are similarly superficial, attempting to win a free pass for messianic sales talk about how miraculous Michael’s abilities are, along with an only-with-hindsight prophecy of how he’s going to be built up, just so he can be torn back down. Damon can just about sell it, although the spiel’s so rich, your eyes will be watering (“A shoe is just a shoe until somebody steps into it. Then it has meaning. The rest of us just want a chance to touch that greatness… Everyone at this table will be forgotten as soon as out time here is up – except for you. You’re gonna be remembered forever, because some things are eternal”).
Sonny Vaccaro: This was the move. That was it.
Alex Convery’s Black List script includes intermittent and highly forgettable on-screen how-to-do points for success, and there are various additions, apparently at Jordan’s insistence (including Wayans’ George Raveling, Tucker’s Howard White); it seems these were written in by Damon and clone Ben. We’re invited to exalt at all the money made, as documented by the epilogue’s text. Indeed, in some respects, they could have milked this underdog cred more – I know, it’s so ironic – by making Adidas out to be monsters (rather than just boardroom Nazis). But this is serviceable, production-line product, perhaps designed – along with other recent tech-nostalgia examples Tetris and the just-released Blackberry – to underline that’s all movies themselves are. So woe betide you if you swallow the sales pitch.