Its hard to imagine anyone better suited to play the President Of The
United States Of America than Harrison Ford. Early in "Air Force One", he
delivers a speech about human rights violations and says, "Never again
will I allow political self-interest to deter us from doing what is
morally right." With a fiercely determined look on his face, he addresses
terrorists around the world, saying "We will no longer be afraid. Its
your turn to be afraid." Ford delivers the speech perfectly, establishing
President James Marshall as a man of great integrity, courage and moral
resolve, the kind of President we all wish we could have.
The combination of extremely well-detailed lead characters and a
constantly escalating sense of tension is what makes "Air Force One"
succeed. Director Wolfgang Petersen ("In The Line Of Fire", "Outbreak")
is very good at creating winning action/thrillers out of preposterous
scripts. "Air Force One" has holes in logic large enough to fly a plane
through, but Petersen spins the tale so well that ultimately, it doesnt
"Air Force One" is "Die Hard" on an airplane, following that films
formula completely. As in "Die Hard", a deranged mastermind (Gary Oldman)
and his thugs take a group of people hostage in a confined space (the
Presidential plane, Air Force One). Our hero (Ford) hides in the bowels
of the confined area, gets his bearings, then begins picking off the bad
guys one at a time, enraging the mastermind even more. While trying to
save the day, our hero establishes a link with an cohort on the outside
(Vice-president Glenn Close by cell phone), who offers assistance and
moral support. Of course, despite all outside aide, ultimate victory can
only be achieved if our hero, assisted by his courageous fellow hostages,
manages to personally kick the crap out of the deranged mastermind.
Of the many "Die Hard" clones, "Air Force One" works far better than most,
because Petersen understands the importance of the human equation. He
firmly establishes the character of President Marshall and his strong
relationship with his wife and daughter, then pulls the rug out from
under these characters lives. Its disturbing watching the President
getting beat up by thugs, because we know and respect the man and the
office he represents. Likewise, when members of the Presidents staff are
killed, their deaths actually register emotionally, as opposed to most
films, where the body counts feel incidental.
Petersen also understands that a "Die Hard" clone cannot work without a
memorable villain, and Gary Oldman does the job nicely. Oldman plays Ivan
Korshunov, a zealot obsessed with his goal of restoring a fanatical
military dictator to power and destroying the evil he believes America
represents. Oldmans eyes glisten with psychotic passion as he rants and
threatens those around him. Again, the human factor is established as he
talks about his family while his expression softens momentarily. One
scene, where Korshunov leans over and kisses the Presidents daughter on
the forehead, is especially chilling because the motive of his gesture is
unclear. Did he kiss the child because she touched a memory of his own
children or was the kiss an act of subtle terrorism, reminding the First
Family of his absolute power over whether they live or die? Oldmans
accent is sometimes shaky, but his performance is powerful.
The supporting cast does the best they can. Glenn Close is credible as
the extremely focused Vice-president. Unfortunately, Vice-presidents
generally dont have much to do, and sadly, neither does Close. Dean
Stockwell is effective as the Defense secretary, who attempts to use the
nightmarish situation for a political power play.
The special effects in "Air Force One" range from seamless to pretty bad.
A computer-generated aircraft crash looks particularly phony. Computer
graphics, trumpeted as the means towards visualizing the impossible, all
too often look merely like overly sleek overlays. For every great
computer-generated scene, like those of Shep, the elephant who thinks
hes a dog in "George Of The Jungle", we have to suffer through scenes
like the plane crash in "Air Force One", which resembles one of those
cheesy visuals presented in motion-simulators at amusement parks.
The pacing of "Air Force One" lags a bit towards the end, largely because
the film has no less than three obvious endings, but enough nit-picking.
The bottom line is that "Air Force One" works. Wolfgang Petersen may have
ripped off "Die Hard", but he did his work extremely well. Thanks to his
expertise and exceptional work from Harrison Ford, "Air Force One"
emerges as one of the summers most thrilling escapist films.
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott