NEW YORK • An apt subtitle for the forceful fact-based drama "Air" (Amazon) might be: "How to Succeed in Business by Trying Really Hard." The film's positive underlying ethics and valuable life lessons, however, come with an overlay of vulgar dialogue that makes it a fit choice for grown-ups only.
Set in 1984, the movie charts the efforts of Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) to rescue the company's failing basketball division as it struggled to compete with rivals Adidas and Converse. To do so, he wants to roll the dice on promising rookie Michael Jordan.
There are plenty of difficulties lying in wait for Sonny, not least Jordan's strong personal preference for Adidas. Sonny doesn't just want to obtain Jordan's endorsement, though. Instead, he wants to create a basketball shoe that will reflect Jordan's personality and capture the qualities he believes will make the athlete a champion with a lasting legacy.
After winning over Nike's initially skeptical founder and CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), Sonny teams with Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), the head of his department, and with co-worker Howard White (Chris Tucker) to foster the project. He also pitches the idea to Jordan's irascible agent, David Falk (Chris Messina).
But the person Sonny really needs to convince turns out to be Jordan's wise and wary mom, Doloris (Viola Davis). Contacting her directly, however, is another gamble since it would violate established rules, rouse Falk's ire and potentially get Sonny fired.
Affleck, who also directed, manages to build suspense despite the obviously well-known outcome of his story (scripted by Alex Convery). Viewers will be cheering Sonny on as the visionary businessman uses ingenuity, innovative thinking and persistence to overcome long odds. An issue of equity raised late in the proceedings adds further moral depth.
All this would be as well appreciated by teens as by their elders. But "Air's" macho milieu, on the periphery of the sports world, is marked by relentless swearing, with the comically unlikeable Falk especially foul-mouthed. Still, mature moviegoers will be well equipped to look past this seamy surface and recognize the good example that lies below it.
The film contains a few uses of profanity, numerous milder oaths, pervasive rough and much crude language and an obscene gesture. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.