Air Force One

Harrison Ford is peerlessly charming and always believable. For this, audiences flock to his movies in droves. It is also the reason that this film succeeds. Air Force One is a movie so ripe with clich├ęs that it itself becomes one. You, dear reader, have been on this ride before, so many times, in fact, that we should all be earning frequent flyer credit card miles for the viewing. However, this film is a prime example of how star power and good acting can transcend the material.

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (“Das Boot”), Air Force One is essentially a blend of familiar ingredients. Most of the great movie moments involving airplanes, cat-and-mouse chases, hijacking, hostages, politics, the president, and terrorists, are all here in some derivative, easily digestible form. Ford is, as you might have guessed, James Marshall, an ex-Vietnam vet, and the not-so-hapless hapless President of the United States. President Marshall takes a stance over-popularized in 1990s action cinema when he vows, “America will never negotiate with terrorists.”

Gary Oldman plays the leader of a Russian terrorist gang who has just hijacked Air Force One with the President’s family in tow. There are Russian prisoners to free, but Oldman has his work cut out for him. One, the President doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. Two, this archetypal villain role is ridiculous to the point of absurdity, and a lesser actor would likely crumble beneath the sheer weight of it. However, Oldman not only manages to make it work, he manages to breathe enough new life into the character to engage us.

On the ground, Glen Close is the Vice President and she is doing all she can. The role is small, but Close’s performance is nuanced enough to make it matter. A subplot centers on her assuming control of the presidency. At one point, those that matter believe the President dead. A female Vice President as a throwaway choice at a time when this actually seemed progressive could have been disastrous. It is not, and there is subtext that works here in ways we have no right to expect from a blockbuster production.

Air Force One is a spectacle, and the special effects are grand. There are high-altitude explosions, and people running around a high-speed plane in ways that should not be possible. This won’t stand up to the reality sticklers. There is also a bomb to diffuse. Of course, you knew there would be a bomb. There always is. There are five wires this time, and Ford must choose just two. Those odds aren’t good, and usually by that point, you just wouldn’t care. However, it’s a testament to Air Force One that you actually do.