Heart attack city! So, is your adrenaline a little low? Suffer
from low blood pressure? Have I got a cure for you: EXECUTIVE
DECISION. Since Steven Seagal is on the marquee, you figure, hey, this
has got to be another Steven Seagal action film, right? Wrong. Steven
Seagal has basically a cameo role and disappears early on, never to be
seen again. Moreover, you even guessed the wrong genre; this is a
thriller. Although there is action, most of the movie's time and
tension is spent in mental anguish with lots of sweaty brows as the
time for disaster approaches. How will they figure a way to pull it
The show starts with an unsuccessful covert mission by Lt. Col.
Austin Travis (Steven Seagal). The research for the mission was done
at a comfortable desk back in Washington by David Grant, Ph. D. (Kurt
Russell) so Col. Travis and Dr. Grant dislike and distrust each other
from the beginning with each blaming the other for the failed mission.
In the next scene, Dr. Grant gets a flying lesson in a small private
plane. Just before he gets to fly solo for the first time, he is
called back to his desk to learn about the failed mission. Right then
and there, the whole audience knows the ending of the show, but it
doesn't matter because editor turned director Stuart Baird is so good
at keeping the tension mounting.
While Dr. Grant is in a very formal tuxedo at a government ball,
he gets called to the Pentagon situation room. It seems that the same
terrorist group has hijacked a 747 and plans to kill everyone on board
unless another terrorist is released from an American prison. Up until
then, it is the classic terrorist problem, but Dr. Grant deduces the
terrorists have an extremely lethal nerve gas called DC-5 on board, and
they do not want to land in Washington, D. C., they want to kill
everyone there with the gas by taking the plane on a kamikaze mission.
The only solution is to get on board the 747 in flight, defuse the
bomb attached to the nerve gas, subdue the terrorists and land the
plane. The question is should the president make an executive decision
instead to shoot down the plane and the 400 people on board before the
terrorists get a chance to explode the nerve gas over land. Dr. Grant
says the rescue mission is possible since he knows a nerdy engineer
named Cahill (Oliver Platt) who has devised a theoretical way to fly a
stealth fighter underneath another plane and link up without being
detected. Platt does all nerds proud and the classic little straw he
sucks on turns out to be one of the heroes of the show.
Cahill, Dr. Grant, and a small, crack secret forces team headed by
Col. Travis flies in the stealth fighter which links up with the 747.
Most of the show happens after the army team plus Cahill and Dr. Grant,
still in his Tux, boards the cargo hold of the 747. I will not cover
what happens next, but suffice it to say that your heart may try to
pound out of your chest as mine did. I even found my body shaking some
on the defusing the bomb scenes. The soldier named Cappie tells the
Cahill while trying to defuse the bomb not to worry since, "if you
screw up, you'll never know it."
Beside what I believe is one of the best performances ever by
Russell, many others are great too. David Suchet from PBS's Perot
series, is excellent as the leader of the terrorists on the plane.
Halle Barry plays a brave and resourceful airline stewardess. John
Leguizamo and B. D. Wong are good as some of the soldiers. The only
weak character in the show is an ambitious senator (J. T. Walsh) who
wants to be the next president. This character happens to be on board
the plane, but I wish he hadn't been. The senator's aid tells him,
"Senator I think we are presented with an incredible opportunity here."
The senator quizzically asks, "Opportunity for what?" The aid goes on
to explain, "Remember how the press is always talking about your not
having a war record? You could be the one to negotiate with the
terrorists." Walsh's performance is extremely weak, and the movie
would have been more focused without his character.
The show works because of the tension, but there is one technical
aspect deserving of special mention, the cinematography by Alex
Thomson. The first time we witness the terrorists in action, they are
shown in black and white slow motion sequences that slowly gain color
before dissolving into the next black and white sequence. See the show
at your local monster screen house because the images of the stealth
fighter coming right at you in the hazy yellow and red glow of early
morning are quite impressive as is the sound. The whole linkup
sequence is another marvel to behold. Finally, although the show does
not try to overwhelm its viewers with technology, I was fascinated by
the way the soldiers look through cameras with small flexible tubing to
see what is going in the main cabin.
The script by Jim and John Thomas sticks to the suspense to keep
the show going. Other writers would have gone for a lot more laughs.
They do use humor, but sparingly. Upon boarding the 747, one of the
soldiers says, "I hope they have a good movie on this flight."
EXECUTIVE DECISION, by the way, is one film I guarantee you, you will
never see on an airplane. The movie ends with Frank Sinatra singing,
"It's nice to go traveling, but oh so much nicer to come home." By
that time, my adrenaline was pumping so fast, I could have flown home
without use of a plane.
Since this is about a presidential decision, whom do you think
they cast in the role of the president? In the show's major
incredulity, the answer is: nobody! The president is AWOL throughout
the entire film and is not available even by telephone since he is out
of the country. I guess he is in one of those fourth world countries
where they have no phones. No problem, since the Secretary of Defense
makes all of the decisions for him. The situation concerns the
destruction of the nation's capital along with tens of millions of
people, but I guess since the president can not be reached, he is
dealing with matters of more import.
Finally, every show with bad guys has to have them be of some
nationality or religious conviction. Although most American shows with
bad guys, have just plain old Americans as the evil characters, I have
seen the villains be Colombians, Italians, Fundamentalist Christains,
and just about everyone imaginable. In this movie they are Islamic.
We were pamphleted on arrival, admonishing us that Islam does not
condone killing. I wonder if in the future, I will be pamphleted by
Colombians, Italians, Fundamentalist Christains, etc.? Oh well, they
were very friendly and polite leafleters. I should point out that the
number two in command complains at one point to David Suchet about the
destruction of Washington that, "This has nothing to do with Islam."
EXECUTIVE DECISION runs 2:15, but it feels like a much shorter
show. I would advise going to the bathroom before entering the
theater. You do not want to miss a second of the suspense. The film
is rated R. This is a soft R that comes from a little bad language and
several people killed, but without a lot of blood or gore, more like an
old fashion Western. There is no sex or nudity. The movie would be
fine for any teenager. I loved this show, and I think you will too so
I recommend it highly and give it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes