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“The Air I Breathe”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “The Air I Breathe,” ThinkFilm, 2008]

Why do so many “independent” movies look and sound exactly alike? Isn’t that kind of a contradiction with the whole independent thing? Nothing in “The Air I Breathe” feels particularly indie; most everything in it is familiar. For any audience member who spends a significant portion of their free time in the arthouse, “Deja Vu” would make a fine alternate title.

The plot is one of those contraptions where four seemingly unrelated stories are all inherently intertwined. Such films try to imbue the minutia of the everyday with a kind of spiritual importance — everything means something, they insist, even if we don’t realize it at first. And perhaps it does. But at this point, it is also one of the most tiresome of indie movie clichés. Eventually, there will so many of these movies that some young director will come full circle and rebel against the indie establishment by creating a work about how one person’s horrible existence has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the horrible existence of the person they meet at a bus stop.

But that day has not come yet. Instead, we still live in a world where the fates of Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Kevin Bacon all rest on one another, though they are completely unaware of that fact. Whitaker is a man in desperate need of cash; Fraser is a debt collector for a gangster (Andy Garcia) to whom Whitaker owes money, and he can also see the future. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a less ironic version of Krysta Now from “Southland Tales” and falls for Fraser, but finds herself also in debt to Garcia. And Bacon needs to save his wife’s life by acquiring blood of a very rare type (bonus points to you, dear reader, if you can guess which other character has said very rare blood type).

Each section has its own title: they are, in order, “Happiness,” “Pleasure,” “Sorrow” and “Love.” Characters appear briefly in one story and then get fleshed out in others. To my shock, the only portion that works at all was Fraser’s; he gives an admirable performance amongst truly adverse circumstances. Grappling with his leaden dialogue (“Sometimes things you can’t change end up changing you”) and a character that is, yes, both a mob heavy and a clairvoyant, Fraser manages to deliver a certain amount of gravitas and makes you believe, despite all other visual and verbal evidence to the contrary, that he’s appearing in a genuinely hard-boiled crime story. In a perfect world, it’d be something that would earn “The Mummy” star some new, more interesting work and pull him from the depths of the kiddie film ghetto that dominates his résumé. Rarely have I been more impressed by an actor and less impressed by a film as a whole.

Beyond the hackneyed premise, “The Air I Breathe” also contains numerous uses of a trick so tired that its mere presence can ruin an entire movie. It’s the gag, so prevalent in recent years, where a character blithely walks in the street when, out of nowhere, they are run over by a speeding car. You can always tell it’s going to happen because the person is standing in the middle of the street, looking extremely happy when all of the sound drops out of the soundtrack; the better to give the impact extra shock value. It’s supposed to give viewers a jolt, but the ploy is so played out that only the most naïve audience members (and of course, these doofy, careless pedestrians) don’t see it coming. Please, I beg you moviemakers. No more.

“The Air I Breathe” is occasionally amusing; particularly when Kevin Bacon’s wife refuses to wear her protective suit while working with deadly snakes. “I’ll be fine!” she insists, whereupon she is promptly bitten. And we’re supposed to care about this future Darwin Award winner? Connecting four mediocre stories together does not necessarily make them more interesting. Longer, sure. But interesting? Not so much.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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