Monday, May 30, 2011

REVIEW: Air Force One (1997)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman

"Get off my plane!"
-President Harrison Ford the Almighty

So it’s Memorial Day. The sun is shining, the flags are raised and we’re all remembering exactly what it means to be an American. And what am I doing? Well, I figured I’d do my part by reviewing a movie like Air Force One, so imbued with that good old presidential spirit that it casts Indiana Jones himself in the role.

Yes, this is the movie with Harrison Ford as the president, and I have to say the concept intrigued me. Hell, it's what they were banking on - just look at the cover; right under Ford's name they put "...is the president of the United States." It’s a shame they just didn’t really do a whole lot with it. His character is rarely ever elaborated upon and mostly his only trait seems to be that he cares about his family more than he cares about domestic politics, as is evidenced by several decisions he makes in this movie. Mostly I just never really bought that he was the president. He was just acting like Harrison Ford here, and although that's always a plus...I was hoping for a little more immersion into the presidential life. We see him do a few president-like things, but never anything that really comes out and screams I AM THE PRESIDENT. And so we're mostly just left with another great Ford performance, which is nothing to sneeze at anyway. But it could have been more.

Another thing that bugs me about him is that HE’S BARELY IN THIS. For the first hour or so you barely see him at all! It mostly focuses on the businessmen and Gary Oldman and, well, pretty much everyone else but him! There’s one particularly annoying scene at about 45 minutes in where there’s something really important and gripping going on and the film keeps cutting back to Ford, in hiding, trying to figure out how a computer works. It’s meant to be funny, but mostly just comes off as trite.

As for the plot; well it’s an action flick. It’s pretty much set solidly in the Die Hard mold, and it doesn’t have any ambition to get out. The titular jet is hijacked by a bunch of terrorists led by Gary Oldman, who wants a jailed political leader released from prison to do more of the good anti-American work. There are lots of nasty things said about America by the terrorists, but it’s OK, since Ford and his band of political businessmen are pretty clearly the good guys. I have to say this is mostly pretty transparent and not really dealt with in a very interesting way. A lot of the middle part of the movie just kind of slags along with self-important talking and rather plodding action scenes in the cramped plane, usually involving someone creeping around with a gun, shooting at doors. Gary Oldman does a good job, but like in The Professional, the writing for him just isn’t very good, and although he injects some venom into the proceeding, his character gets old pretty fast. Was this just a trend for him in the 90s?

I did like the Vice President, played by Glenn Close – she had some very nice intensity to her performance. And Harrison Ford was pretty cool when he finally got some screentime in the second half of the movie, with some solid action scenes. Mostly this movie is just worth watching at all for the climax, which involves some really great build ups and some truly terrifying moments where Ford ends up dangling hundreds of feet in the air as the Air Force One goes down in smoke. That’s just awesome, and I wish the rest of the movie could have matched it. It is pleasant, though, and there's just something charming about it that prevents me from actually disliking it. So maybe that's a good sign.

P.S...this movie was directed by a German? That's some great national intermixing we've got going. A German filmmaker telling a story about Americans and Russians. That's just wonderful. I love the modern age of communication, where everyone knows what's up with everyone else. It does strike me as a little less appropriate for a Memorial Day review now, but...hey, it's still about America; shut up.