Film Scouts Reviews

"Air Force One"

by Richard Schwartz

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At first glance, this film seems to share a great deal in common with another summer action blockbuster, "Con Air." Oh, not to neglect "Passenger 57," "Executive Decision" or "Turbulence." As far as the plot is concerned, it's once again the familiar refrain of "Die Hard on an Airplane" - except for the minor fact that the "Die Hard" brain trust already turned in that concept first in the form of "Die Hard II: Die Harder," the one in which Fred Dalton Thompson appeared pre-Senate Hearings as a prickly air traffic controller.

But, whoa there, don't get out those air sickness bags just yet. "Air Force One" throws an obvious twist into this tired formula - our protagonist here is the President of the United States! Certainly, it's no small stretch for any film, let alone an action movie, to make a hero out of the president when cynicism and distrust surrounding our nation's highest office seems to be at a peak. Surprisingly, the patriotic play seems to work. (No doubt, if only Dick Nixon could've foiled a couple hijackers around, say, the summer of 1974, he would've remained in office.)

After fashioning an impromptu tough-on-terrorism speech that would make even Bibi Netanyahu appear soft, President James Marshall (Ford) cools his heels with his family on board Air Force One as the presidential jet peacefully departs Moscow for Washington, D. C. However, a group of communist thugs disguised as a Russian TV crew soon takes control of the plane and demands the release of a jailed rogue Baltic dictator. When the hijackers' leader (Gary Oldman) begins executing members of the presidential staff and threatening the First Family, the president is forced to confront his new policy on an intensely personal level. Complicating matters is the fickleness of the Vice President (Glenn Close) and Cabinet back at the White House, and the steadfastness of the vodka-swilling Russian president at the Kremlin. Predictably enough, when words fail, the crafty president is able to out-maneuver the bad guys with fists and bullets and, thank heavens, save the presidency.

Caustic remarks about political institutions aside, one must give credit to "Air Force One" for delivering an engaging and at times suspenseful ride, even when every audience member apparently knows both the formula and eventual outcome. Much of this is owed to the well-paced script of Andrew Marlowe and sharp direction by Wolfgang Petersen ("In the Line of Fire"), who seems now to have a knack for portraying these moral-minded political plays against a sure action backdrop. Yet the film's success lies in the principal performances of veterans Ford, who has yet to make a bad action film notwithstanding "The Devil's Own," and Oldman, one of the screen's most versatile actors and an effective bad guy to boot.

Close, as the female veep, signals a fun nod toward gender politics but ultimately fills a very supporting role. Additionally, Dean Stockwell appears as a defiantly loathsome Cabinet member, a role description that has become cinema's newest cliché, given similar turns by James Woods in "Contact" and Alan Alda in "Murder at 1600."

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