Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Air Force One (1997)

Watching Air Force One now is a whole other story.

This thriller from director Wolfgang Petersen was released in 1997, four years before a series of terrorist attacks killed 3,000 Americans in September 2001.

It's chilling to see this fictional story set on board Air Force One, used to transport the President of the United States, when planes were used in the 9/11 attacks.

Air Force One is a good, not great, thriller with its share of implausible moments. Here's one, how could so many bullets be fired with no damage to the plane's shell or windows? Two, just how many shells are in weapons used by the American president?

The story is one Hollywood keeps exploring because it's an exciting concept. Bad guys are thwarted by a hero who evades them and mucks up their plans. Think Die Hard and Passenger 57.

But, boy, there's some whoppers in this film. How does terrorist Ivan Korshunov and his henchman get on board? They wipe out a Russian television crew and assume their identities. But how does Korshunov's thumb pass a scan test? The tight security on Air Force One really looks like a joke with such easy access for the villains.

Give marks to Air Force One for a plot with a bit of an edge. President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) rouses a crowd in Russia with his decision, not vetted with this advisers beforehand, that there will be no negotiating with terrorists. "It's your turn to be afraid," he says. This declaration follows the capture of General Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), a Russian nationalist tied to all kinds of violence. Marshall's vow is put to the test when his wife, Grace (Wendy Crewson) and daughter Alice (Liesel Matthews) are taken hostage on board Air Force One.

Marshall is supposedly safe after an escape pod is expelled from his aircraft. But, the American president is an American Vietnam veteran, not a coward. He's stayed on board, unknown to the terrorists who want him captured, and works to retake Air Force One.

Back in Washington, Marshall's cabinet tries to figure out what to do. Poor Glenn Close. As Vice President Kathryn Bennett, she doesn't look all that decisive. She's also taking flack from Defense Secretary Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell) who's itching to have Marshall declared incapacitated so he can be removed as America's leader. This subplot really drags down the film. Dean foams at the mouth with his actions.

Oldman is a good villain, but his occasional shrieks either suggest madness or a guy who just can't contain his emotions. It strikes me as a little overblown. Korshunov continues the Hollywood villain tradition of keeping hostages alive rather than killing them to prove a point, ie. Don't mess with me and give me what I want.

There's a few laughs, mostly from Harrison Ford. William H. Macy, such a great actor, is largely wasted here as Major Caldwell.

Korshunov suggests Marshall isn't unlike Radek, opting to kill people who don't fit in with the American way. "That's what you do in the White House. You play God." Discuss.

I've ordered Passenger 57 from an Amazon associate. I haven't seen that movie in years. It'll be reviewed in early 2015. I'll be curious to see what I think of it compared to Air Force One.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Prochnow starred in what is likely Petersen's best film, Das Boot. See it if you can. Petersen has not directed a film since Poseidon in 2006. Has he retired?

Liesel Matthews appeared in just three films. Air Force One was the second. n

Wow. William H. Macy was a critic in Somewhere in Time.

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