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Air Force One (1997)
Rated R

Starring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman and Glenn Close

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Harrison Ford makes for an unusual action hero. He's getting a little long in the tooth to be playing action heroes, but in Air Force One, he pulls it off, probably for the last time. Well, that's probably a little unfair, seeing that Sean Connery was playing James Bond even as recently as 1983. Anyway, in the context of the plot, having Ford portray a reluctant action hero is not a bad choice.

The movie opens with President James Marshall (Ford) delivering an intense, anti-terrorism speech at a Moscow dinner reception. The reception was to celebrate the capture of General Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), a dictator who had slaughtered some 200,000 people inside a former Soviet state. But, Marshall takes the opportunity to lament the fact that it took so long for him to be stopped, even in the face of the slaughter of so many innocent people. He proclaims a "zero-tolerance" policy that will prevent any negotiation with any terrorist for any reason.

After the speech, Marshall boards Air Force One, the President's high-tech plane, along with a group of supposed Russian journalists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). As the plane lifts off from Russia, the journalists reveal themselves to be terrorists and assume control of the plane from the inside -- a scenario that had never been thought of by security experts in Washington. Korshunov demands that General Radek be released or the terrorists will execute a hostage every half hour.

The President is supposed to be whisked off the plane by escape pod, but, since his family is still trapped somewhere else on the plane, he refuses to leave. This President is going to fight for his family and country. How patriotic.

Air Force One has a lot going for it in sheer star power. Ford is good as President Marshall. If only we could find a politician with the morals and resolve of this guy. Glenn Close and Dean Stockwell make a nice twosome as they argue over who is actually in command of the U.S.A. while the president is in jeopardy. Oldman is in great, if clichéd, form as the terrorist commander.

The movie does ask the audience to make several huge suspensions of disbelief as it whisks the main characters through airspace without seeming to take some laws of physics into consideration. On top of that, some of the computer graphics effects are rather poor. What ever happened to using decent models for special effects? Once thought to be the saviour of special effects technology, it now seems evident that every major action movie needs to use CGI effects simply to be considered up-to-date. Does anyone check to see how cheesy it looks on film? Granted, some of the fighter scenes are well-done, but a few key explosions look totally unconvincing.

Still, the performances save what could have been a horrible movie in the wrong hands. Wolfgang Petersen's directing keeps the film moving along at a decent pace and, with a running time of just over two hours, that's a good thing. He manages to keep some things in check, like the possibility of the president's daughter, Alice (Liesel Matthews), becoming too cutesy or too smarmy. Her performance is exactly what the film calls for. The president's wife, Grace (Wendy Crewson), is also nicely handled.

The overt patriotism is a little hard to swallow and the effects are pretty lousy in places, but if you're looking for a movie to kill a night with, you could do a lot worse than Air Force One.

Trivia: The lead role was written for Kevin Costner, but he was heavily committed to The Postman, and suggested Harrison Ford for the part. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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