Old Movie Review: Air Force One

Julie’s out of town, so my bachelor lifestyle is kicking back in which means watching movies of questionable taste accompanied by alcohol. To prove my married life is better, I watched a fairly decent movie and had a good scotch (the Macallan, thank you very much). I really enjoy Air Force One to an unreasonable degree.

As I mentioned in my review of The Hunt for Red October, I treat Air Force One as an unofficial Clancy film, and I love it. It was on TNT, and usually I don’t stoop to watching movies on TV, but this is definitely a guilty pleasure.

The quick character rundown is Harrison Ford plays President James Marshall who has just completed a joint counter-terrorism effort with Russia to depose General Radek (Jürgen Prochnow!) and Air Force One is hijacked by terrorists led by Gary Oldman (Gary Oldman!) while the Secretary of Defense (Dean Stockwell!) and Vice President (Glenn Close!) spar over who should be in charge. As if that cast wasn’t enough, check out the connections with 24: Xander Berkeley who played Jack Bauer’s boss James Mason plays Gibbs the lead secret service agent. Also Glenn Morshower who played the best secret service agent ever on 24 got in some practice playing an unnamed agent in this movie. Oh, and bonus William H. Macy as a random air force major.

The plot is pretty much the hostage drama on the plane; and oh, is it dramatic. The movie’s fairly heavily wrought. Jerry “Star Trek and a million other things” Goldsmith’s music cues are extremely patriotic. Gary Oldman is enjoyable as ever, bringing a slightly more focused level of crazy compared to his drug-addicted corrupt cop from Léon (The Professional). The set pieces push the envelope a little, but all look awesome: the opening snatch & grab by the special forces, escape pod on the plane, the terrorists taking off and clearing the military transport by inches, midair refueling gone wrong, parachuting escape, F15 pilot “going in” to stop the MiG’s missile, the guy diving in front of a bullet yelling “noooo” in slow motion, and a really sweet final plane escape.

Another interesting thing is how very few people die randomly. There are a couple Kazakhstan military that get shot, and a couple people on the plane that meet some bad deaths, but the majority of character deaths are really done well for maximum effect among the hostages and the terrorists alike. Especially the hostage executions which really do a good job of locking in Gary Oldman’s true-believer status.

There are a few things that pin this in a 80s-90s timeframe: CNN is heavily featured as the major news source. Saddam is still in power. The president is a white male. The phone of choice is a satellite-phone. There are a couple things, though, that make it timeless: The backchannel communication line is a fax machine. There’s still unrest in the former Soviet republics. The terrorists point to US imperialism-for-oil as a major motivator. There’s still one forward looking thing: the vice-president’s a woman.

Still in that hyperdramatic vein is the quotable dialogue. “If this works you get to be postmaster general.” “You who murdered a hundred thousand Iraqis to save a nickel on a gallon of gas are going to lecture me on the rules of war?” “Get off my plane!” “Liberty 2-4 is changing callsigns; Liberty 2-4 is now Air Force One!” I especially love the way the situation room erupts into applause, too.

My final awesome-fact is when the Secretary of Defense attempts to invoke the 25th amendment, the signatures form is dated September 23rd (i.e. my birthday). This goes down with Little Shop of Horrors as movies that reference my birthday.

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