(SPECIAL NOTE: Capsule version of the review is available here.)
It isn't unusual for some films to become gain importance and value with the passage of time. However, it is unusual when it happens due to reasons that have very little do to with their quality. Air Force One, 1997 action spectacle directed by Wolfgang Petersen, is
one of those rare films that became valuable while remaining bad.
Just like in many of Hollywood 1990s action blockbusters, the plot dealt with aftermath of Cold War. Evil Communist general Radek (played by Jürgen Prochnow) took over Kazakhstan and launched brutal war with the aim of restoring Soviet Union. Entire Russian military is unable to stop him, but US forces are there to save the world with brilliant commando raid that would ends Radek captured and being brought to Russian custody. US President James Marshall (played by Harrison Ford) comes to Moscow to celebrate the success of the raid and uses the opportunity to promise that US government would never negotiate with terrorists. He would have to put this policy in practice when the gang of Radek's supporters, led by Ivan Korshunov (played by Gary Oldman), manages to hijack President's plane as it leaves Moscow. They take some fifty hostages, including First Lady Grace Marshall (played by Wendy Crewson) and President's 12-year daughter Alice (played by Liesel Matthews) and demand that Radek gets released from prison in exchange for hostages. President, who happens to be decorated Vietnam War veteran, manages to hide in the plane. While the rest of US government, led by Vice President Kathryn Bennet (played by Glen Close), deliberates how to answer to terrorists' demands and while terrorist execute one hostage every 30 minutes, President is determined to wreck Korshunov's plan and retake his plane.
In strictly technical terms, Air Force One is relatively good film. German director Wolfgang Petersen is well-experienced with action genre, and he can deal even with difficult action scenes in confined spaces of air plane. Richard Edlund's special effects are for the most part very convincing, at least for 1990s standards. Jerry Goldsmith skillfully uses patriotic motives in his music soundtrack and thus makes it sound original. The acting is more than passable – efforts of good character actors match the very convincing Harrison Ford in the role of world leader turned into action hero. Gary Oldman is surprisingly restrained in his portrayal of psychopathic villain.
The main problem of Air Force One is William A. Marlowe's script. While most of Hollywood's 1990s action blockbuster asked viewers to suspend their disbelief, few went as far as this one. Any attempt to compare the plot of Air Force One with similar or corresponding scenarios that happened or could have happened in real life brings this film closer to fantasy than to action genre. Marlowe's script tries to convince the audience that one of world's most treasured objects could be easily taken over by few terrorists. It also tries to portray the world's most elite security detail allowing itself to be wiped out like sitting ducks. To add to all that, the President of United States in this film is gifted not only with impeccable character or superb martial skills, but also with supernatural abilities to predict right course of action even when it contradicts common sense. All this could have been digestible in Air Force One with at least little bit of irony or with script that doesn't take itself seriously. Unfortunately, any semblance of humour is absent from this film. Because the film tries to be serious, some of the plot holes are almost intolerable.
That doesn't mean that Air Force One is worthless. On the contrary, passage of time made this film valuable because Air Force now gives excellent insight into the way Hollywood viewed world during Clinton's presidency. In those utopian times, USA was not only single, but invulnerable superpower with ability and willingness to take out evildoers and bring fruits of democracy and prosperity to every corner of the world. In those times American democracy worked flawlessly and American people always elected only the best possible leaders, without any flaws and moral failings. The American political system was perfect, the military was perfect and the only people insane enough to resist American supremacy were those who had unsuccessfully tried to do it in the past - Communists (whose identity Petersen reveals with the use of L'International in one of the more surreal scenes of the film).
Needless to say, today we are living in a very different world and overwhelming majority of people are sharing the world-view if not diametrically opposed than at least very different from the one advocated by makers of this film. Ironically, in one tiny detail Air Force One is today closer to reality than seven years ago – political priorities of this film's fictional US President looks like a carbon copy of political priorities of current White House occupant. Those few people who watch this film today are going to be reminded that the world is much more complicated place than Hollywood film makers would like us to believe.
RATING: 3/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on March 19th 2004)
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