Air Force One (1997)

July 24, 1997

True to expectation, Air Force One is a sustained exercise in good old American flag-waving, sub-machine gun style, and there isn’t a hope in the world for a few Russian terrorist bad guys when they’re facing the wrath of some Yankee ‘do-or-die’ ideals. Gary Oldman puts on yet another accent on for this outing (does this guy ever accept roles that utilize his real accent?) as the leader of a group of Russian revolutionaries intent on springing their beloved General out of prison. To attain this they infiltrate and hijack the eponymous plane, with only the president of the United States, James Marshall, by his lonesome to uphold the American Way - the second Air Force One of the movie.

There’s something about a movie that portrays the president of the United States as a political Rambo that seems… laughable. At least with the bulk of action films the protagonist is some tough guy (i.e. cop, prisoner, army dude, sports celebrity) stuck in a situation he doesn’t want or expect. Now, we’re expected to watch some graying, grandpa politician stick it to some ne’er-do-well’s with, well, strong words and stiff policies?

Casting the not-so-grandpa Harrison Ford as the big guy Marshall seems like a solid gold guarantee that audiences will swallow a brain boggling concept like this. After all, this isn’t just any old actor - this is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan rolled into one, with the saintly sensibilities of Yoda slipped in for good measure. After viewing this one, American audiences will be falling out of the theatre, jonesin’ for some fisticuffs and ready to vote Ford himself into the White House.

Ford’s Marshall is a real good guy - a walking, talking Everyman who just wants to love his family, watch the football game and drink a Bud - and it’s this Leave it to Beaver atmosphere in tandem with the violent goings-on that really perplexes. Not only are we supposed to believe that Marshall is an ex-Navy Seal (or Green Beret, or something like that), but that he also has a blemish-free marriage, a loving daughter and some very liberal ideas on American Foreign policies? This isn’t suspension of disbelief, it’s disbelief dei gratia.

Director Wolfgang Petersen is a very capable action director, who created the best U-boat movie ever (Das Boot, recently re-released in its original 206 minute running time), and managed to make a potential stinker like In the Line of Fire rather watchable. Here he carves out a hefty slab of suspense and some sharply directed kinetics, but is overwhelmed by the zealously patriotic script and some horribly rank music by Jerry Goldsmith. Utilizing music as a suspense device is one thing; having your soundtrack sound like the theme for a Democrats’ leadership convention is not only excretable, it’s inexcusable.

The irony of having a German director make a pro-American film is rather interesting, and Petersen is really not to blame for the failings of Air Force One. He does overdo the ‘throwing yourself in front of a speeding bullet for your leader’ thing too much (here upgraded by having an F-14 throw itself in front of a missile), but in general does as good as possible with what he’s got. If you can take an incredibly stupid ending (“Get off of my plane!” - give me a break) and the overpowering jingoistic tone of the whole affair, you might be able to stomach it. Then again, perhaps I just don’t get it - after all, I’m Canadian.

ISSN 1499-7894
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