The Film: Air Force One (1997)

The Principals: Director: Wolfgang Peterson,Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, Elya Baskin, Levan Uchaneishvili, David Vadim, Andrew Divoff, Ilia Volok,Paul Guilfoyle, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Alan Woolf, Dean Stockwell, Jurgen Prochnow.

The Premise: Russian terrorists led by Ivan Korshunov (Oldman) seize Air Force One in a daring mid-air raid in an attempt to capture President James Marshall (Ford) and force him to pressure the current Russian president to release hardliner General Radek in the hope that Radek will claim power and return Russia to its former Soviet glory. However, the Secret Service succeed in getting Marshall to safety and presumably off the plane. In reality, Marshall remains on board as the lone hope to save the day. While evading the terrorists on the plane and taking them out single0handed, e works with his team on the ground, headed up by Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Close) to foil Korshunov’s plans, even while his family (Crewson, Matthews) are in danger.

Is It Good: It’s really Ford’s last good summer tentpole action pic outside the Indyverse. Stocked with a top notch cast and suitably heroic direction from Wolfgang Peterson, whose films are typically good middle-of-the-road actioners. It’s a solid popcorn flick that delivers all the usual pro-America vs. terrorists populist appeal, back when it was still fun to have Us vs. Terror.  It’s the umpteenth rendition / variation of the Die Hard formula that the ’90s produced, but it’s still got enough working for it, from the generally satisfying script, to many of the portrayals, to the action, to Ford, back when he still looked like a major action star.

The premise has Ford in the John McClane role, except that this is the first time – aside from an alien invasion – that the Commander In Chief is the one saving the day.  Opposite him is Gary Oldman as Hans / Ivan (heh, a Russian named Ivan), in a role that’s really beneath his considerable talents, but to which he adds a fun bit of Russkie flair.  Ford’s Marshall and his entourage are in Russia to reaffirm their friendship, but more importantly, to lay down a new policy where America will not only not stand for terrorism, but actively pursue it and stamp it out anywhere in the world.  This doesn’t make some members of his Cabinet happy, not that Marshall cares much.

Meanwhile, Ivan and his squad poise as airport personnel and steal aboard Air Force One.  They shoot the shit out of the plane and the Secret Service guys (hint, they had some inside help).  But the remaining presidential protectors hustle Ford down to the plane’s Presidential escape pod.  But rather than bail out, Marshall hits the eject button and launches it without him.  He stays behind and gets his McClane on, managing to save most of the hostages, until he’s captured.  From there it’s a fight with Ivan (“Get off my plane!”) and a pretty exciting skirmish between American and enemy MIGs who are trying to scuttle Air Force One.

As mentioned, the movie follows the Die Hard Playbook page for page, but the twist of having the President the one being the hero was nice and I generally like the movie.  The landing scene where Oldman and Elya Baskin’s Andrei have to relaunch Air Force One after the landing attempt is pretty cool.  And damn it, I just can’t help it, but that ending group dogfight stirs up the old patriotic fervor.  From Air Force One, though, it’s only a couple of movies with Harrison Ford – who used to be my favorite actor – that I’ve paid to go to the theatre to see just because he was in it.  I’m hoping the trend is reversed with the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens.

Random Anecdotes: Wolfgang Petersen stated that he called this movie “Air Force Fun” because of how goofy Gary Oldman would get in between takes.

Cinematic Soulmates: Executive Decision, Passenger 57, Die Hard