The Air I Breathe


Ah, January, hallowed dustbin for projects half-baked, too-cooked, or both, as in the case of this overstuffed noir actioner from Korean-American newcomer Jieho Lee. Nothing if not ambitious, this muddled omnibus of zealously interlocked parables of love and death—inspired by an ancient Chinese proverb—suffers from a surfeit of noir influences, glum existential aperçus, and bodies going thwack on windshields. Lee and co-writer Bob DeRosa show more taste than respect for their top-drawer actors: Forest Whitaker, grimacing haplessly as a nerdy banker risking all for naught; Brendan Fraser, trying to look world-weary while not collapsing into giggles as a woolly-capped hit man burdened with humanitarian impulses, a sad past, and an unhelpful ability to see the future; Sarah Michelle Gellar, a troubled pop star trapped under the thumb of gangster Andy Garcia; and Kevin Bacon in saint mode, risking all for the love of an unaccountably droopy Julie Delpy. The destiny-versus- responsibility hand-wringing is Philosophy 101, the camera angles straight out of film school, and the pacing strictly music-video. Plus, the ta-da! twist ending is foreshadowed roughly 20 minutes into the action, for those still interested. Lee has talent, intelligence, and something to say—if only someone had thought to stop him from packing in every film he ever wanted to make under one roof.