Air Force One
Reviewed in 1998
Director: Wolfgang Petersen. Cast: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Dean Stockwell, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, William H. Macy, Xander Berkeley. Screenplay: Andrew W. Marlowe.


Photo © 1997 Columbia Pictures
Image reproduced from Boston Globe Online
Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One feels surprisingly heavy for lightweight summer fare, and not because it comes laden with any great freight of ideas or emotions. The damn thing seems less like an action picture than an action opera, where every character and situation is prone to a certain amount of overstatement. By casting the President of the United States as its imperiled hero, the screenplay likes to pretend that its stakes involve no mere fable of good vs. evil but the fate and security of the country we love. Harrison Ford, forcibly divested of any residual Sabrina-style softness, fills the big shoes of the Prez, facing off against Gary Oldman as the kind of viperish Slavic menace he could chew through in his sleep.

No one participating in Air Force One does anything to let the picture down, but the movie ultimately fails to distinguish itself from any other Die Hard-derived, location-specific thriller. Director Petersen, who fashioned In the Line of Fire into such a graceful, succinct piece of pop paranoia, makes a preferential turn in this picture toward hulking, low-angle shots of the plane that make it look like the Hindenburg, or Noah's Ark. He directs Ford to handle his role with a solemnity more appropriate to a face on Mt. Rushmore, therefore shutting down Ford's star wattage instead of revitalizing it, as happend with Eastwood in Fire. After an election year in which voters seemed particularly dispirited with their choices, Air Force One offers the fleeting pleasure of positing that if only Han Solo had run, then our country could really kick some ass! Sentiments like these can make for a real zinger of a political cartoon, but two hours is a long time for such a two-dimensional, high-concept adolescent fantasy to play out. Nor do the filmmakers get points for casting Glenn Close as the Vice President, if all she gets to do is clench her jaw and wring her hands.

It is now a written rule in Hollywood, in these post-"Hasta la vista, baby" days, that the hero of any action picture must come prepared with a climactic, concise, crowd-pleasing utterance with which to kiss off the Hated Villain. So, what were the most flag-waving, rabble-rousing, trumpet-worthy words that Air Force One could put in the mouth of the leader of the free world?—"Get off my plane!" Okay by me, pal. After 120 minutes of the Same Old Thing, I was all set to take a trip somewhere else. C+


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Film Editing: Richard Francis-Bruce
Best Sound: Paul Massey, Rick Kline, Doug Hemphill, and Keith A. Wester

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