Air Force One
1997, R, 125 min. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson. Starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Wendy Crewson, Paul Guilfoyle, William H. Macy, Liesel Matthews, Dean Stockwell, Xander Berkeley, Glenn Close.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 25, 1997
Another day, another summer blockbuster. Really, my ears are ringing and my head hurts and isn't it about time for a musical? Perhaps not. Perhaps just one more big shoot-'em-up, and then we can all go take a nap. Honestly though, Air Force One may be the best of the lot thus far, when it comes right down to it. Chock full of witty, honest dialogue, human beings as actors (as opposed to adenoidal cartoons), and a clever script that takes itself just seriously enough to warrant our attention, Peterson's film is an America-a-Go-Go version of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Tightly constructed and with precious little humor (thankfully, there are no winking asides to the audience, nor an overabundance of cocksure one-liners, à la Batman & Robin), Air Force One tells the story of American President James Marshall, a no-nonsense family man and ex-marine. While returning from Moscow one night, the legendary presidential bird is hijacked by Russian ultra-nationalists (led by Oldman) intent on securing the release of their leader, a captive of the current Russian regime. Problems galore for this president (you get the distinct feeling he's the sort of guy who could make Bill Clinton cry just by looking at him), including the fact that both his wife and young daughter are also on board, along with his chief of staff and various other cabinet members. The film quickly becomes a seek-and-destroy mission set on high, as President Marshall -- believed by the hijackers to have escaped -- stalks his captors and slowly turns the tide against all odds. This is the sort of film Howard Hawks would have had a ball with, but that said, Peterson (who directed one of the greatest anti-war war movies of all time -- Das Boot ) is no slouch. He knows damn well the audience isn't going to fall for that President Superguy crap anymore, and so he's taken great pains to ground the film in some sort of reality. He includes frequent cuts to the White House, where Vice President Bennett (Close) holds out against what appears to be a coup of sorts by over-zealous Defense Secretary Walter Dean (Stockwell) while also negotiating to save the lives of everyone aboard Air Force One. That's a tough job, made even more so by the fact the she's dealing with Gary Oldman who, I think we all realize by now, is probably a handful on his best days. Like the aircraft of its title, Peterson's film is a huge, loud beast of a film, filled with gunfire, explosions, and not a few tears. It's all grounded, however, in Ford's gritted-teeth performance as President Marshall. Ford is the closest thing to Gary Cooper we have these days, and he pulls it all off without making it (or us, by association) look ridiculous. Yes, Air Force One is another loud, chaotic summer blockbuster, but this time out, it's a loud, chaotic summer blockbuster for adults. And that's something Jerry Bruckheimer and his crew just don't seem to be able to do.