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air-affleck.jpeg

'Air' Review: Is Ben Affleck the Prestige Version of Adam Sandler Now?

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 10, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 10, 2023 |


air-affleck.jpeg

I want to make it clear for the Rotten Tomatoes folks who come around to add this review to their website: I liked Air. Air is a good movie. Please put a shiny red tomato next to the blurb you use for this review (may I suggest Air is the New Balance of Nike movies”). It’s a compelling story with a great cast, a fine script, and good, solid direction. It’s an enjoyable hour and 52 minutes.

It’s also a middle-aged white guy movie made by middle-aged white guys, starring middle-aged white guys, and targeted specifically to middle-aged white guys. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a middle-aged white guy! I like movies aimed at me! Thank you for this, Mr. Bomb in Phantoms, yo!

The problem I have with Air is that it does not aspire to be more than that. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon started a new production company, Artist Equity, designed to “tell stories in a different way” but there is nothing different about the way that Air is told. If Air is any indication, they’re telling stories in an old way that had been forgotten in the MCU era but they are pitching it as a “different way.” However, Air — good, solid, entertaining — is the kind of staid, reliable storytelling that the Marvel-era bowled over 15 years ago.

Air is a knock-off Aaron Sorkin screenplay directed by a knock-off Cameron Crowe — the movie even utilizes “Singalong Junk” from Jerry Maguire for God’s sake, and Matt Damon delivers the words “Michael Jordan” with a deliberate pause and a sense of awe, as though he were stuck in an episode of The Newsroom. There is nothing wrong with that! Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite directors and, God help me, Sorkin is one of my favorite screenwriters. They were great in their prime. But neither Crowe nor Sorkin evolved, and they’re still making projects for the audiences that loved them in the ’90s and early aughts. That’s what Affleck is doing in Air. This “new model that tells stories in a different way” is an excuse for Damon and Affleck to hire all their friends and make movies like they used to. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that! Adam Sandler does it. Air, alas, feels like the prestige version of Grown Ups.

This is Affleck’s fifth directorial effort, and all the promise in The Town and Argo has gone stagnant. This is director-for-hire work. Ridley Scott may be 35 years older than Affleck, but that man can still bring it, as he did with Damon and Affleck in The Last Duel. Air is a solid Dad Movie, but Dad Movies can be more inspiring and invigorating than this: See, for instance, James Mangold’s Ford vs. Ferrari starring Matt Damon. Air is more like We Bought a Zoo for Michael Jordan fans. I loved We Bought a Zoo, but Affleck and Damon can do better than appeal to me.

In 1997, Affleck and Damon wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting, an Oscar-winning movie with a $10 million budget. I watched it a few weeks ago. It still holds up. Twenty-five years later, however, and they have probably spent $10 million on Air’s music budget alone: Affleck pulled from the biggest, safest, most reliable hits of the era: “Born in the U.S.A.,” by Bruce Springsteen, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, “Time After Time” from Cyndi Lauper, etc., etc. Again, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that — it’s a fastball down the middle, a steak with a side of potatoes — but Air is about a shoe company that, for the first time, built a shoe around an athlete instead of the other way around. This movie does not invent a new mold. It feels like it came off the Dad-Movie assembly line.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a lavishly produced, A-list 30 for 30 episode. It’s basically a film made with Bill Simmons in mind. That’s fine! There are a lot of Bill Simmons in the world! But it feels regressive to me to say that you’re designing a new model, a different way of telling stories, and the movie you launch with is a $90 million film that caters to the same people who are always catered to. It’s a B+ movie, and my biggest problem with it is that it never aspires to be more. Worse still is that this new production company is clearly not designed to introduce new voices; it’s designed to keep the same ones employed.