“Air” Never Quite Reaches Championship Heights

3 Apr

Air, Ben Affleck’s simply titled origin story of the Air Jordan, is not a sports movie. It’s a sports marketing movie. The film tells the story of how, in 1984, Nike sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) worked to convince both his colleagues and Michael Jordan’s parents (Viola Davis and her actual husband, Julius Tennon) that a Jordan-branded basketball sneaker would be a slam dunk.

It’s easy for viewers now to dismiss this as an obvious idea. But remember: It all happened before MJ’s rookie NBA season, back when he was an unproven player, and Nike was the number-three sneaker brand (behind Converse and Adidas), not the corporate behemoth we know today. Also, athlete-branded shoes just weren’t a thing back then. But against all odds, and the wishes of the company’s board of directors, Nike went all in on this deal — one that, if it failed, likely would have ended the fledgling brand altogether. 

All these years later, we know how that gamble turned out.

Affleck, working from a script by Alex Convery, does a nice job establishing the time, place, and context. He overdoes it a bit on the soundtrack, though — a lazy filmmaking choice that’s a letdown coming from the director of The Town, Argo, and Gone Baby Gone. We get it, Ben; the movie takes place in the mid-’80s. What else ya got?

On the good side, the cast (which includes Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, and Affleck himself) is clearly having a good time throwing the ball around. Their chemistry is infectious, and that makes it easier to overlook the film’s flaws.

Air is strongest when it zeroes in on the point that good sports marketing isn’t about enabling the superstars, it’s about making the rest of us — the average Joes and Janes — feel like superstars. (Cue the Gatorade “Be Like Mike” jingle, which plays over the end credits.) Unfortunately, that point only comes together toward the end of the film, in a monologue that feels like a last-minute, buzzer-beater shot from mid-court. 

By then, the film has clearly established itself as more of a game of pickup basketball among friends than a game of pros. By which I mean, it’s fun and entertaining to watch, but it’s not going to win any championships.

I’m giving Air a B.

One Response to ““Air” Never Quite Reaches Championship Heights”


  1. Catching Up on 2023 Movie Reviews | Martin's Musings - April 4, 2023

    […] Read my review here. Grade: […]

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