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Air Force One

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Paul Guilfoyle, William H. Macy, Liesel Matthews, Dean Stockwell, Xander Berkeley, Bill Smitrovich

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

If the President's private plane, Air Force One, were hijacked, it's highly unlikely that President Clinton (or any real-life Chief Executive) would go mano y mano with the terrorists. But this is Hollywood, where wimpy presidents just don't sell. So we have Wolfgang Petersen's Air Force One, an exciting, entertaining variation of the Die Hard formula where our kick-ass hero is none other than the President of the United States.

Right from the get-go, we know Harrison Ford's President James Marshall is one take-no-crap guy. We first see him at a dinner at the Kremlin, where he and the Russian president (Alan Woolf) are celebrating the capture of General Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), a fascist tyrant whose brutal tactics wreaked havoc in Kazakhstan. It is during this dinner that he gives an impassioned speech saying that the United States will no longer take action against such atrocities at the last minute, striking at the first signs of trouble. President Marshall gets his chance to back up his words when, en route to Washington, Air Force One, is hijacked by a group of Radek loyalists, led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), demanding the general's release. With his wife (Wendy Crewson), daughter (Liesel Matthews), and numerous staffers held hostage, it is up to President Marshall to defeat the baddies and reassert America's reputation as the leading global power.

The basic conceit is a little far-fetched (then again, what action movie plot isn't?), and given some of the clunky dialogue by screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe, sometimes it sounds ridiculous, too. But while watching the film, you buy it hook, line, and sinker, due in large part to the acting talent on board. Ford's commanding presence lends a sense of authenticity to every project he's in. It is one thing to be a convincing kick-ass action hero and quite another to be believable as "the leader of the free world"; not only does he pull off both without a hitch, but he also pulls off the task fairly seamlessly. When he is wacking a terrorist with a stool, we also believe that this the president, doing what it takes to protect his country; similarly, in more sedate presidential mode, we believe that, when push comes to shove, he is capable of acting in such a violent way. Another huge acting asset is Glenn Close, serving as the plane's (and the film's) dramatic anchor to reality as Vice President Kathryn Bennett, who is the focus of the action in the White House. Oldman is appropriately restrained as Korshunov, wisely resisting the urge to camp it up as a lot of action movie villains do these days. Anything too over-the-top and outre, like Oldman's turns in the Luc Besson films The Professional and The Fifth Element, would seem too out of place here.

But this is not to say that Air Force One is a gravely serious and self-important championing of the American presidency. Even though President Marshall is a combat veteran who can more than hold his own in a fight, he still is a desk jockey by trade. He's no know-it-all gadget whiz MacGyver; a lot of times he doesn't know what he's doing or how to do it. The little comic touches, from little one-liners to scenes such as one where he reads an instruction manual to a cellular telephone work not so much because they are funny but because they also ring true (after all, wouldn't the president have someone make his calls for him?).

Air Force One does not offer as much character nor plot to chew on as Petersen's last thriller involving the presidency, 1993's terrific Clint Eastwood starrer In the Line of Fire, but it still delivers the goods--a brisk pace, explosions, gunplay, fights, lots of airborne action, strong acting, and, last and certainly not least, the legendary Harrison Ford.

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