Netflix & Chill #104: Air

Does anyone remember the film Late Night starring Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling? It showed up

on Amazon Prime and I remember sitting down, watching it, and generally liking the movie, but it didn't really leave much of a lasting impression on me. The cast was excellent, the writing good, and everything worked to create an entertaining experience that I promptly forgot about as soon as it was over.

That's kind of the same way I feel about Air.

Don't get me wrong, a movie topic, it makes sense. The advent of Air Jordan changed the shoe business forever and launched a cultural juggernaut-- one could argue that things like the Magic/Bird rivalry and the rise of Michael Jordan and Air Jordans are really what put the E in ESPN and if you're super into sports history and love Air Jordans and are genuinely curious about where they came from, Air will tick all over those boxes. The cast is excellent. The performances are good. I genuinely liked a movie where everything worked to create an entertaining experience that I sort of forgot about as soon as it was over.

The movie opens in 1984, where Nike is struggling to break into the basketball shoe game and is considering getting out of the basketball shoe game entirely-- they're struggling that badly. Looking to reverse their fortunes, Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) a marketing VP, and Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) tasked their chief basketball talent scout, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) with finding them a new spokesperson for Nike basketball shoes.

It's a tough assignment. The top recruits from the 1984 NBA Draft have been snapped up and everyone is convinced that the third pick, Michael Jordan is off limits because he's a fan of Adidas and way out of the range of their budget. Vaccaro becomes convinced they can do something else though: make the talent, in this case Jordan, part of the brand so that the brand and talent can grow together. It's something that no one else in the shoe game is doing at the time and it seems like an impossible ask. Vaccaro goes to George Raveling (Marlon Wayans) who coached Jordan in the Olympic Tournament to ask for advice and Raveling tells him that it's not necessarily Jordan he needs to convince, but his mother, Dolores (Viola Davis).

Taking an even bigger risk, Vaccaro bypasses Jordan's agent, David Falk (Chris Messina), and goes straight to the Jordan family home in Wilmington, North Carolina to make his pitch to Dolores. He seems to convince her that Nike will do better by her son than Adidas and Converse will, but a negative phone call from Falk seems to convince him that he's failed, only to find out that the Jordan family has scheduled a trip to come to Nike headquarters in Oregon to hear their pitch.

Vaccaro and his team get to work with Howard White (Chris Tucker) they consult shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) who proposes using Nike's air sole technology to create the first pair of what he dubs, Air Jordans. 

The Jordans hear the pitch and are impressed, but all seems lost when Nike finds out that Adidas has matched their offer and thrown in a new Mercedes-Benz to sweeten the pot. Vaccaro is ready to quit when he gets a call from Dolores, who says that Jordan will sign with Nike but only on the condition that he earns a percentage of every pair of shoes sold. Vaccaro thinks this is probably a deal breaker, but takes it to Phil Knight anyway, who surprises him by agreeing to it. It turned out to be an excellent idea, Air Jordans blew past the estimated $3 million in sales earning Nike $162 million in the first year alone, and have remained a steady source of income for the company ever since.

Overall: I don't know if I'd call it a trend, but between miniseries about things like Uber and WeWork and the Blackberry movie and the whole dramatization of the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos mess, Hollywood seems to be all about dramatizing slices of recent capitalism. Air sort of fits in that trend and feels a lot like the kind of movie you'd throw on for a high school econ class that's about to head out for Winter Break. 

It's fine, though. This isn't a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Ben Affleck seems to have some Jeri curl on his head giving him like an 80s perm thing going on which is rad. Good look for him. Marlon Wayans and Chris Tucker are great and excellent casting choices-- I don't know if Chris Tucker is working his way back into the game or what he's been doing, but it's nice to see him pop up now and again in stuff. Apparently, the man himself (Michael Jordan) signed off on this movie only on the condition that Viola Davis play his Mom and he made a good choice because she's awesome in this movie. 

If I was really into shoes or had ever owned a pair of Air Jordans, I think this movie might mean a little more to me, but because shoes are just things I put on my feet and I've never owned a pair of Jordans in my life, it was merely a good movie to me. Not sure I'd watch it again, but not sure I'd change the channel if it showed up on my Hulu Live or something either. I don't know what this movie missed, but it missed something and I can't quite suss out what it was. I feel like the creation of arguably the biggest shoe in the world should have been more epic in scale, but it just... wasn't. It was fine. It's worth watching. 

My Grade: *** out of ****


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