The Air I Breathe




NEW YORK -- Inspired as it is by the four emotions that an ancient Chinese proverb declares to be the building blocks of life -- happiness, pleasure, sorrow and love -- it's not surprising that debut filmmaker Jieho Lee's multipart drama "The Air I Breathe" suffers from a certain schematic quality.

A top-notch varied group of actors, no doubt attracted by the colorfulness of their roles, has been assembled, but their hardworking efforts are ultimately done in by the supremely pretentious nature of the material.

Utilizing a Robert Altman-style approach to its intertwined story lines and characters, the film, co-written by the director and Bob DeRosa, is not exactly subtle. Indeed, by the time it reaches its overly melodramatic conclusion, the main effect produced is unintentional laughter.

Each of the film's four segments depicts a character achieving one of the seminal emotions, albeit via O Henry-style narrative twists.

In the first, Forest Whitaker plays an accountant who attempts to solve his desperate financial problems by robbing a bank. The second features Brendan Fraser as an emotionally tortured hitman with the ability to see the future. The third has Sarah Michelle Gellar as a pop singer who becomes unfortunately beholden to Fraser's boss, a gangster named Fingers (Andy Garcia), who gets what he wants by removing his victim's digits. The fourth depicts the efforts of a doctor (Kevin Bacon) frantically trying to save the life of the woman (Julie Delpy) he loves from a potentially fatal snake bite.

The plot contrivances necessary to tie the story lines and characters together are not particularly meant to be believable, but their sheer piling ultimately becomes deeply ridiculous. Not helping matters is the overly aggressive visual style that incorporates frantic camerawork and frenetic editing.