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'Air' leaves its characters with little breathing room

'Air' leaves its characters with little breathing room
Norman Reedus stars in "Air." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Weapons of mass destruction have obliterated most everything in the post-apocalyptic world of "Air." The sole survivors are our best and brightest, specimens handpicked by the government to hibernate in sleeping pods inside underground bomb shelters.

Engineers Bauer (Norman Reedus) and Cartwright (Djimon Hounsou) periodically wake up to perform maintenance, which must be completed within two hours given the limited oxygen supply. Cartwright's pod malfunctions, forcing the pair to break the seal and venture outside the bunker to retrieve replacement parts.

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Cartwright communicates in his head with his significant other, Abby (Sandrine Holt), as she's one of the many kept in suspended animation. But he's hardly the only one going stir-crazy. In fact, the shifting dynamics and the ensuing cat-and-mouse between the two engineers clashing over how best to use the dwindling oxygen prove to be the least believable aspects of this science fiction.

Writer-director Christian Cantamessa and co-writer Chris Pasetto aim for a Danny Boyle-Alex Garland-style psychological thriller like 2007's "Sunshine," but they don't adequately account for all of the mood swings.

The film is most effective when Bauer and Cartwright are battling the surroundings instead of each other. That's really no small feat, given that the movie has to overcome the inherently claustrophobic sets and absurdly outdated props like monochrome computer monitors and dot-matrix printers.

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"Air."

MPAA rating: PG-13, for violence, language and sexual references.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena. Also on video on demand.

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