Thursday, July 27, 2017

AIR FORCE ONE 20 Years Later

by Adam Riske
He will get us a great deal…not negotiate!

Note: This column will contain spoilers. I also take a couple light shots at Trump. You’ve been warned.

Air Force One is a true relic of the 1990s. The film was directed by Wolfgang Petersen (who was on a roll at the time, following In the Line of Fire and Outbreak) and came at the end of the Die Hard inspired “one man versus terrorists in an enclosed space” subgenre of action movies which gave us classic after classic throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. Air Force One is also from the action era before 9/11, an event which would forever change how filmmakers portrayed terrorist acts in popular entertainment. I’ve seen the movie a handful of times, but this was my first viewing since the late ‘90s and it’s a different experience in many ways. It’s hard to roll with a dumb action movie (and this movie is capital DUMB) that hinges on subplots including terrorists taking over a plane and traitors to a hostile power. However, those are unfair to hold against a movie that wasn’t intended to be political or controversial (it’s never mentioned if President James Marshall is a Democrat, Independent or Republican) in the first place. All we really gather from this President is that he has a conscience, is a regular guy who likes football, loves his family and won’t stand for terrorist guff. Political nuance and grey area need not apply. This is a popcorn movie through and through.
I don’t think Air Force One holds up as well as similar ‘90s actioners like Under Siege, Speed, Sudden Death, Die Hard 2 or With a Vengeance, etc. but it’s not without charm. Harrison Ford is the whole show here in a role originally written for my boy Kevin Costner, who was too busy working on The Postman to take the role in Air Force One and went as far as suggesting Ford for the part. In other words, I will not condone any Kevin Costner bad mouthing in the comments for this article…or to my face, ever! Without Ford, Air Force One would be almost direct-to-video quality. It’s very professional looking crap, save for the visual effects, which are just crap (that plane crash at the end…like, are you serious?). Air Force One represents an interesting period in Harrison Ford’s career. It’s kind of the end of his “Harrison Ford is...” time period, by which I mean his involvement alone was worth hundreds of millions of dollars in box office. Look at the poster. It just says his name, who he’s playing and has a huge picture of his face. You are selling this movie on Harrison Ford and Harrison Ford alone. The poster doesn’t even explicitly state that the movie is in the action genre. But, boy is it in the action genre, which is where Ford excels best.

My most lasting memory of Air Force One before this re-watch was that it’s a “Harrison Ford falls on people” movie. He doesn’t really fight as much as lunges at you and hopes for the best. I love it so much. It got a little ridiculous by the time he was making 2005’s Firewall, but it’s an aspect that made Harrison Ford endearing to me as much as his epic “My wife! My family!” delivery that he seemed contractually obligated to make for several years. One point of contention I have with the action in Air Force One, though, is that Ford breaks Wishmaster icon Andrew Divoff’s neck and it’s like “How can I root for Harrison Ford?” after that. Ford’s on-screen nemesis (who he has stated is his career favorite) is Gary Oldman as a loyalist to a radical General (played by Jurgen Prochnow) that Oldman demands be freed. It’s a fun performance, which unfortunately is dispatched quite early in the climax, resulting in a weird choice by the filmmakers to pad the last twenty-something minutes with secondary villains and Ford’s character trying to fly Air Force One out of danger. It is crazy and not always crazy fun. The cast is rounded out by a rep company of ‘90s character actors or stars popular from decades past, including Glenn Close, Dean Stockwell (super annoying by design here), an up and coming William H. Macy, Paul Guilfoyle, Xander Berkeley, Wendy Crewson (doesn’t get more ‘90s than that) and Liesel Matthews (of A Little Princess fame) as the First Daughter. I had a crush on her in 1997. I was all “We will not negotiate which songs are played by the DJ at our wedding!”
So, after 20 years, what is Air Force One like to watch? It’s diverting, but not much more and one of the lesser films of Harrison Ford’s “grown-up” movie period in the ‘90s, which featured his two efforts as Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger as well as The Fugitive. Air Force One is a victim of having too many clichés and I’m talking about annoying ones like control rooms (Have they ever improved a movie? It’s just cheering and squabbling), sassy extras like the doubtful switchboard operator and characters that only exist to frustrate the audience with dubious agendas and counter-arguments. This movie is mired in those. Also, a plane isn’t a great setting for a thriller. They’re always the same because they have a set number of locations (cockpit, galley, luggage, main deck etc.) and the whole movie takes on a sterile vibe since you’re chilling in a pressurized tube. To end on a positive note, I’d like to point out two famous fans of the film: Bill Clinton (who screened the movie in the White House multiple times during his Presidency) and the current President, who was quoted as saying “Harrison Ford on the plane…He stood up for America.” When Harrison Ford heard this his reply was perfect. “Donald, it was just a movie. Things like this don’t happen in real life.” Harrison Ford rules!

15 comments:

Brian Sager said...

Trump would be so conflicted about Gary Oldman he wouldn't know what to do. One on hand, he's Russian, which means he's Team Trump, so Trump loves him. On the other hand, he's a fake reporter, which means he's FAKE NEWS, so he hates him. In the end, he would just tell everyone he has bad feet and leave anyway.

I do think it's fun to think about how our recent presidents would fare in such a situation tho. Trump and Clinton...no shot. Obama might take out Wishmaster before getting too winded to fight on. Bush may take out 1 or 2. George HW Bush tho, he'd end up with a necklace of ears. No mercy, no surrender.

Adam Riske said...

I think Biden would have tagged along on the refueling plane and took care of the rest of the baddies that Barack didn't manage himself.

Brian Sager said...

Joe Biden sliding down a gas line with his belt between 2 planes is the most cinematic image I can think of. Someone ask Eric England to put this in his next movie.

Gaith said...

"It’s never mentioned if President James Marshall is a Democrat, Independent or Republican in the first place. All we really gather from this President is that he has a conscience-"

Well, that rules out Republican, then! *rimshot*

#GOPCareIsDontEverGetSick

Adam Riske said...

The funniest GOP healthcare joke I've heard is that they'll give you 50 Tylenol at birth and you can ration them however you see fit for the rest of your life.

Joseph Finn said...

Another really fun character actor appearance by Elya Baskin, a Latvian actor that you can spot in things like October Sky or as Peter's landlord in Spider-Man 2. (RENT!)

Anonymous said...

There's no mention of Oliver Platt and Steven Seagal in this review, I notice. Could this have anything to do with the fact that both these men (yes, men, you feminazis. It's not a dirty word) happen to be conservatives?

I rather think it might be.

Adam Riske said...

That's Executive Decision but nice try

Chaybee said...

What is happening with internet people?! Holy hell, I'm starting to lose my mind.

Anonymous said...

Damn your eyes, Adam Riske. Shakes fist

Anonymous said...

I was making a dumb joke, Chaybee. F This Movie is the best. Adam is gorgeous. I don't care if he's on the short side or Jewish or slightly balding. He's a stud and I love him.

Chaybee said...

Cool. Went over my head. Apologies.

Brian Sager said...

It's really all our faults for not recognizing the famous comic stylings of Anonymous.

Daniel Epler said...

I loved this film as a kid but last time I rewatched it..... yeah it doesn't hold up well. By far the biggest issue is it is so bogged down in "control room scenes". Everything with Glenn Close and Dean Stockwell is in no way interesting.

Still, Gary Oldman kills it here.

Adam Riske said...

I so wanted Close and Stockwell to just knock all the papers and file folders off the table and make out.