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This Prez Makes a Dent

Rock 'em, Sock 'em Ford Saves the Day in a Smart Actioner

(This review originally appeared in the July 24-30, 1997 Long Island Voice.)

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

You don’t have to visit amusement parks this summer. Just ride Air Force One. That’s not just a glib analogy. Air Force One will get your adrenaline going — without worrying about your seatmate throwing up.

Harrison Ford, as the print ads say, "is the president of the United States," who has worked with the Russian president to capture the fascist tyrant (a cameo appearance by Jurgen Prochnow who starred in director Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot) who seized control of Kazakhstan, which still had a few missiles from the USSR days. Afterward, President Marshal makes a dramatic speech promising American retribution against terrorism and a refusal to negotiate. You know that speech will be thrown back in his teeth.

The wait is sort. The president and first family depart after the speech and the terrorists capture the plane shortly after takeoff. The trailer, while exciting, actually hurts the film by making it appear that the hijacking is illogical and that the government tells the world immediately. Neither is true. The hijacking is ingenious in its operation (thought how truly feasible it is only the Secret Service can say — and they won’t) and the news brief is only issued after parts of the story leak out.

The only thing you can really quibble over is Marshall’s refusal to leave the plane without his family. Technically, it can be argued that the president should put his country first, but tell that to a husband and father.

Ford is so credible as the president that you’ll wish you could vote for him. The film carefully mentions tidbits that make his actions believable. Plus, Ford brings an intelligence, charisma and moral standpoint to the role that most real politicians today lack.

The cat-and-mouse game between the terrorists and the Americans is logical and devastating in its ruthlessness. Yet it’s so engaging that even the cynical critics in audience when I saw it applauded when the Americans succeeded at one point. It was also refreshing to see William H. Macy, recently lauded for Fargo, to play a rare heroic role as a major assigned to the president’s staff. He’ll never be a matinee idol, but he makes an interesting hero.

Not all of the excitement is on the plane. The scenes in D.C. are also tense as the Cabinet and Joint Chiefs try to outmaneuver the terrorist without jeopardizing lives. Glenn Close is commanding and intelligent, yet human as Vice President Kathryn Bennett. It’s easy to see why the Marshall/Bennett ticket was elected. Besides being intelligent and charismatic, no one would believe he was using her to get the female vote.

The D.C. power plays only heighten the tension and feel like an insider’s look at the struggle between the military and the politicians who control it. Dean Stockwell as the secretary of defense will remind you of Alexander Haig during his "I am in control" speech after Reagan was shot.

Gary Oldman follows his villainous role in this spring’s The Fifth Element by playing the lead terrorist, Ivan Korshunov. While Ivan is a fanatic, he’s not the foaming-at-the-mouth, maniacal fanatic common to action films. Ivan is as smart as he is ruthless, but Oldman succeeds in making him a man rather than a stereotype. You believe him when he says he had to carry this through even if it means turning his back on God.

One final stunt may strain credibility slightly by making you wonder if someone could hold on that long, under those conditions. Other than that, the stunts are great and aren’t the superhuman level of most action films.

If Contact is the thinking person’s science fiction film, Air Force One is a smart rollercoaster ride — in air conditioning.

A Columbia Pictures release. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen.


Accompanying photographs  1997 Columbia Pictures.