So once again we have survived.

Air Force One

tn_airforceoneAIR FORCE ONE is a good example of the ’90s style of studio prestige action movies, along with THE FUGITIVE and EXECUTIVE DECISION. They feel almost exactly like an UNDER SIEGE movie (this one is DIE HARD on a plane, if John McClane was the president of the United States) but by using respected actors (Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, William H. Macey, Gary Oldman) and dressing it up with lots of effects shots of jets taking off and lots of talk about military and White House protocol they make sure mainstream audiences don’t get embarrassed. Nobody has to know they’re watching an action movie.

mp_airforceoneHarrison Ford plays President Marshall, who has just helped the Russians to capture a Kazhakstani tyrant and then made an unplanned speech about how the U.S. will no longer waste time with diplomacy or sanctions. Instead they’ll do the other thing, the awesome thing that is the other choice that the speech will not describe in detail so that nobody thinks about any specifics so it seems like something awesome he just said and we can all get behind it.

Flying home on Air Force One, the president is in for some shit: turns out Xander Berkley is not playing a rare good guy role as head of the secret service – he’s actually a traitor. And they didn’t hire Gary Oldman just to play a reporter on the plane – he’s actually a terrorist and he hijacks the plane. The president seemingly gets away in an escape pod (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was right!) but little do they know he actually stayed on board, because these colors don’t escape.

That’s because this is no ordinary president. He gets his own Just How Badass Is He? scene – turns out he’s a medal of honor winner, flew more missions in Vietnam than etc. etc. Like John McClane he sneaks around, gets mistaken for a security guard, finds a way to call outside, has to convince a rude operator that he’s not making a prank phone call, has to deal with assholes in authority who don’t like his methods (the Secretary of Defense in this case), has one person who believes in him (Vice President Glenn Close). Oldman isn’t like Hans Grueber though. He really believes in his cause and doesn’t ask for money. He makes a comment about all the Iraqis killed in the Gulf War, which was unusual to discuss in the US in 1997. But other than that he’s not that complex of a character.

It’s a pretty effective movie, with lots of escalating mayhem and plenty of danger every time they think they’re home free. But I don’t know, sometimes it rubs me the wrong way when somebody’s trying to push my buttons that hard. It doesn’t seem like the asskicking president who risks his life to save hostages is supposed to be absurd. It seems like you’re supposed to think, “Yes, of course! Because we’re AMERICA!” The music is so majestic it would make John Walker Lindh spontaneously recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Over and over again the president saves others before himself, risks his life unnecessarily and against the wishes of his security team, just to show he’s not a chickenhawk. And because he’s a micromanager. He engages in shootouts, fisticuffs, sabotage, piloting, rappelling. His wife and even his 12 year old daughter are too tough to crack even at gunpoint. They talk tough to the terrorist and say things like “My father is a great man!” and “He will NEVER negotiate!”

Of course it’s a nice fantasy, we like to think we’re that tough. It’s what would happen if Jesse Ventura was president. But it’s hard not to wince at that foreign policy speech:

“The truth is, we acted too late. Only when our own national security was threatened, did we act. Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid. It’s your turn to be afraid. ”

Yeah, must’ve sounded real nice before pre-emptive war and “Axis of Evil” and “with us or against us” and all that shit. This is actually more extreme than Bush, he at least pretended there were national security reasons. President Marshall says national security concerns are selfish.

I mean, I wish it was that easy. Obviously in the movie you’re supposed to accept it as a serious and good idea that he’s gonna follow through on. But that means he’s gonna be running all over the world stopping terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, not to mention the countries of the former Soviet Union this movie is concerned with, plus all the atrocities going on all over Africa. And I bet he could find some work in South America. Remember, no negotiating. We will never negotiate. We said so. It would look bad.

To be fair, this is a president with a hands-on approach. He didn’t dodge the draft and even if it turned out his war record was trumped up it wouldn’t matter because his post-war record is even more impressive. Maybe when he makes that speech he’s talking about what he personally is gonna do. He’s gonna fly in there and hit somebody with a stool.

In this type of movie you don’t get many quirky touches. There is a kind of funny part where the president gets the idea to dump Air Force One’s fuel because he sees a milk carton leaking. I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t sound that funny, but I get a kick out of watching Harrison Ford stare thoughtfully at leaking milk. That’s it! I’ll pour milk on them.

The director is Wolfgang Peterson, 2 years after he did IN THE LINE OF FIRE. I guess Clint’s secret service agent character must’ve been retired by ’97 so it’s a good thing we have a president who can take care of himself. Of course, Clint would’ve known that Xander Berkley was a Judas and would’ve snapped his little legs. The whole thing never would’ve happened.

I guess the other item of note is Glenn Close as the vice president. This was the year before Morgan Freeman was a black president in DEEP IMPACT (and same year as Tiny Lister in THE FIFTH ELEMENT). Casting like that was kind of a novelty and seemed sort of progressive. The idea is just because we haven’t had a woman vice president doesn’t mean we can’t. And when you see it in a movie you see that there’s nothing weird about it. You get used to the idea, maybe.

But they’re not as gender-blind as they think they are. Close is a very confident and intimidating ballbuster, but right before she goes on the phone with the terrorists she has a timid little moment to take a deep breath, like the whole thing is an act and she really is “sweating in her silk blouse” as Gary Oldman taunts. I mean, it adds a layer to the character, but I’m just saying, they’d never do that with a male character. So even if they’re saying that a woman can do the job the same they’re also showing that they can’t quite.

I mean, she’s the heroic one on the outside of the plane but when it comes down to it her whole success is to avoid making a tough decision and just assume the president will save the day. I think she got lucky more than did the right thing.

By the way, I’m pretty sure the president keeps his tie on for the entire movie. I kept wanting him to use it to strangle somebody, but he didn’t. I guess to take it off would be undignified and give comfort to America’s enemies in addition to giving comfort to America’s president’s neck. Plus, if the Transporter wears a tie then so can the asskicking president.

According to IMDb trivia, the script was written for Kevin Costner, who suggested Harrison Ford, and if he had turned it down the other choices would’ve been Schwarzenegger, Keanu Reeves, and Dennis Quaid. That might be bullshit but it’s funny to think about either Arnold or Keanu as president. Actually, that might’ve made it more memorable.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, August 21st, 2009 at 2:32 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

40 Responses to “Air Force One”

  1. I think that´s a very stupid movie (and i even like Independence Day).

  2. caruso_stalker217

    August 21st, 2009 at 4:49 am

    President Reeves would’ve been pretty badass.

  3. I remember an article in a magazine, when this one came out. They asked why German directors in Hollywood have to be so unbelievable U.S.-patriotic in their movies. Okay, they were only talking about this one and Independence Day, but they where tearing them to shreds. Pff, whatever.

  4. The 90s were pretty interesting when it came to government in fiction. “Air Force One” had an action-hero President. “Independence Day” had a pre-Bush flightsuited President. “The American President” had the man as a romantic figure.

    And yet this was the same decade that gave us “The X-Files”, where any paranoid theory about the government was probably true.

  5. I remember seeing this in the theatre and being somewhat indifferent to it – the only thing that really sticks
    out in my mind was the really crappy TLC-computer-reenactment-level CGI plane crash at the end. You could
    almost see the exact moment in time they ran out of funding for the film. I actually remember laughing out
    loud when I saw it (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the reaction they were looking for…).

  6. It would have been pretty funny if Ford had turned it down and they went with Quaid. “OK, he’s not interested. Let’s get that slightly cheaper guy that looks just like him”. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy but I’m guessing that’s what they were thinking.

  7. RRA and I just recently had a conversation about this one, can’t remember which talkback though and am too lazy to look it up.

    Regardless we discussed this is one them thar ‘safe’ movies that’s as safe as safe can get. It never once dares to challenge you, oh sure it may think it is with the Gary Oldman speech, the ‘your father and I are not unalike!’ speech, but then the movie does nothing but depuict Oldman and his leader and their entire group as unsavory and unforgivable monsters so you don’t have to worry too much about that silly moral-ambiguity.

    That said I’m not an art house snob and do not feel anything is wrong with ‘safe’ cinema. In my mind cinema’s first job should be to entertain (fuck your ‘art’).

    -although I don’t care for this one too much. I’ve seen it many times as it’s hands-down my mom’s favorite action movie. Can’t tell you specifically what it is, it has a good cast and some decent action but it never takes off for me (no pun intended)

    –one thing that always stood out for me is that this (and Spawn which I think came out in the same month) had one of the worst CGI shot in history (Scorpion King in Mummy Returns is still worse and will always be the worst imo). It’s the shot at almost the very end when the plane is crashing into the ocean/sea/whatever. It suddenly becomes like a cinemat blooper out of the Microsoft Flight Simulator. Simply terrible.

  8. Just how badass is this president? Pfft. He was a marine at the Academy. Summer of his third year, he went down in a chopper accident. Bad. Pilot and crew killed. That kid spent months in traction and another year learning to walk again. He did his fourth year from the hospital.

    Oh wait, that was Jack Ryan. Well, Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan. Not Harrison Ford. Never mind. This movie was basically Jack Ryan as president, as written by some committee meeting. I saw it on TV a month ago and just kept wondering when it would be over, and why the hell didn’t he take off his tie?? Great minds think alike.

    Hey Vern – here’s a movie that I’d like to see you review. “Something’s Gotta Give”. Every time it’s on TV I end up watching about 15 minutes of it with sick fascination but that’s about all I can take. Only you can review this movie the way it should be.

  9. The only things I like in this movie:

    Bill Macy with a sub machine gun.
    The bit where the fighter jet takes the hit for the pres (that really is pretty well done).
    “Get off my plane!”

    Yeah, I kind of hate this one.

    A better movie might have been a Last Boy Scout (Joe Hallenbeck?) type of SS guy who hates the pres but has to save him. Much more fun and would have eased up the cringe factor a tad.

    Although movies like this do seem like a postcard from a simpler time, so there’s that.

  10. Reeves would’ve never happened, but hell yes it would have been more memorable. Costner movie I love is The War.

  11. I’ve seen this once, and thought it was fine, but not very memorable, though there were a few things about it:
    -when he doesn’t have the actual number for his security advisor or something, so has to phone the front desk of the White House and convince the receptionist who he is
    -the Ellis-y scene where he has to listen to a hostage get killed, only it makes it more about him making the choice not to give in, rather than in Die Hard where it’s pretty much Ellis’ fault for pretending he’s McClane’s best buddy in the whole world
    -If I remember correctly, Oldman’s demand was for a guy to get released from Prison, and he almost makes it out, but as soon as Marshall gets things under control the prison guards KILL the guy, rather than try to just wound him. Pretty cold, man.

  12. Not only do they kill the general, but as soon as it happens everyone back in DC cheers, like they just saved Apollo 13 or something. Oh no, there won’t be any political ramifications of them pretending to release and then suddenly executing the leader of Kazakhstan on behalf of the Americans.

  13. Yeah I won’t rehash my side of the discussion w/ geoffreyjar, except we do agree that for a movie with a good cast, a bigass budget, and a (sometimes) decent director, AFO is just fucking forgettable and disposable.

    I’ll repeat this anecdote: I reviewed AFO at another website, and weirdly while my fellow action junkies dismissed it too, the casual moviegoer members LIKED the movie.

    For us guys who’ve eat action for breakfast, AFO is very quite disposable ultimately. For people who only casually check out or watch an actioneer like some of us do with…oh I don’t know…a chick flick romantic comedy….They quite enjoy AIR FORCE ONE.

    Also, I hated that fucking AFO subplot about the 25th Amendment. It’s idiotic, and not the good kind in actioneers. If Close and that Cabinet were responsible public officials, they would have invokved it IMMEDIATELY after the plane got hijacked. Cheney and Biden would have done it for Dubya and Obama, because you cant let terrorists own a President in power. There is a good reason for that 25th, you know.

    And yeah Ford and his gang take the plane back, save the day. Then Close and Cabinet can restore the President back to his office. No big deal.

    Give me SUDDEN DEATH or UNDER SIEGE if I want a good DIE HARD knock-off. At least they are memorable in the good ways, whether Van Damme killing a chick assassin in penguin mascot costume with the industrial dish washer. Or topless girl popping out of a cake during a terrorists situation.

  14. Also Vern, did you know that supposedly a Direct-to-Video sequel was almost produced around 1999/2000? Yeah it would have been the same President having to take back…get this…the WHITE HOUSE. Imagine that one-liner:

    “Get out of my house!”

    Who would have replaced Ford? Michael Keaton.

    I shit ya not.

    I would vote Batman for President!

  15. What is up with that? Roland Emmerich has made an entire career about the triumph of the American spirit and how it is up to us to lead the brown people to liberation. You would think that it was just a cheap cash grab, combined with the idiocy a man would need to make those movies, but whenever Emmerich talks about it in interviews, he sounds completely sincere and unironic. Weird.
    About that President action hero versus conspiracy theory thing: Independence Day tries to have it both ways, by showing the president to be a kick ass action hero, but also show how the government lies to us and keeps secrets.

  16. I really liked this movie. I don’t know, I think it got going really well and never stopped. Good villain, good hero. I don’t like how everyone always has to talk tough to terrorists, and not even the daughter will be scared…that’s a lot of crap. I don’t know, to me on the internet there’s sort of a reverse snobery when it comes to action movies sometimes. The worse and lamer, the more props it will get because that’s a little more ironic. Under Siege was fine enough, but it was so rote and to me the action was boring because never for a second does Seagal show self-doubt or possibility that he may die. At least Ford sweats in Air Force One.

  17. telf – joe hallenbeck took a bullet for the pres but i think you’re thinking about the senator or congressman character who he has to save in the end, even though he hates him for getting him kicked off the Secret Service.

    “meh” has always been my reaction to AF1. It was kind of weird how big a hit it was, given how generic it is. Prime example of what Vern was talking about when mentioning homegenized action for the masses. The one thing I did think that was out of the norm was how early Oldman gets offed in the movie – definitely an unusual move but not necessarily a good one – there’s still the enemy jets and Xander Berkley to worry about, but who gives a shit at that point. Sorta reminds me of Nothing Last Forever (Die Hard: The Book) where the Hans character (Tony?) gets offed and there’s a few straggler terrorists to worry about.

    On another (embarassing) note – I actually thought up a similar idea to AF1 a few years prior in my youth (like I’m sure we all have during the “Die Hard on a ___” period). It was basically the same but was a star vehicle for Ric Flair, and involved him running around, chopping terrorists, hitting them in the balls, putting them in the figure four leglock, and banging stewardesses, shit like that. I’m still not sure if that would have been better or worse than AF1.

  18. Air Force One would have been 122.7% better if Ric Flair was the star. In fact, I’m adjusting my memories to make it so…

    The version of AF1 I saw kicked ten kinds of ass and don’t give a shit who looks at me like I’m crazy when I talk about it. Remember that scene when the rest of the Horsemen showed up with jet packs and broke Gary Oldman’s leg with the steel cage door? Awesome!

    WHOO!

  19. “President Flair” does have a nice ring to it…

  20. Y’know, they should remake this as “Idiocracy” spin-off. President Camacho FTW!

  21. Marlow – or remember that scene where President Flair climbs up on top of something to pounce on a terrorist, but they grab him by the throat and he shakes his head “no! no!” and then they throw him off? Or the scene where he begs for mercy from a terrorist and drops to his knees, then uppercuts him in the balls?

  22. i like this movie.

    i liked it when it came out, and i’ve caught it on DVD a few times since then. i think i like it better then the HFord Jack Ryan movies. but that could be the awesome backlash of having Gary Oldman as the main big bad.

    its a FUCKLOAD better then anything Ford has done in, oh, the last decade. plus i have a weak spot for Roland Emmerich. i hated Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 BC, but I will defend Independence Day till the day i die. that movie is a great nineties time capsule of fun.

  23. neal2zod – Or that scene when President Flair brags about taking the villain’s wife on a trip to Space Mountain? :)

    “its a FUCKLOAD better then anything Ford has done in, oh, the last decade.”

    jsixfingers – Thats not exactly saying much. Though I kinda thought FIREWALL and INDY IV were decent if not exactly worth a serious fart of discussion. Also maybe I thought K-19 got a worse rap than it should have gotten.

  24. I watched this in the cinema back in the day and I liked it. I also liked ID4 and watched it 4 times in the cinema.
    Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the life of a movie nerd was much more easy and laid back.
    Today, everything gets overanalyzed and put under a microscope.
    Those movies where made in a specific time period, before the big terror thing and the people thought that Clinton is an okay dude.
    I could see Clinton beating Oldman to death with a Sax and then victory fucking his secretary over Oldman’s dead body.
    good times.

  25. caruso_stalker217

    August 22nd, 2009 at 2:28 am

    Victory fucking!

  26. I gotta say, Vern, that in my opinion all of those criticisms you make about the political “tough Americans” dialogue is kinda the subtext of most Bruce, Arnold, and Chuck movies. True, Harrison Ford actually SAYS it, but as you say in the beginning of the review, this movie is supposed to trick non-action movie fans into seeing an action movie. Thus the dialogue.

  27. Fletcher Hanks: To be fair, this is one of the few films that makes that subtext so overtly political. In your standard action films politicians are weak-willed Washington pencil pushers. That’s what makes this film so interesting, if only as a pre-9/11 time capsule. Have you picked up YOU SHALL DIE BY YOUR OWN CREATION? I’ve got I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS and it’s totally nuts. I’m wondering if it’s worth picking up the second volume.

  28. Jacks Lack of Motivation

    August 22nd, 2009 at 6:55 am

    The action hero presidents are amusing in that to keep the hero as the non-conformist maverick type, the writers have to transfer the president’s essential The Man-ness on to some snivelling bureaucrat politicians (be they trying to depose him or to hide Area 51), so that the president can then fuck The Man with impunity. Figuratively.

    Obviously I’m not going to try and deny that there’s a hawkish subtext to a lot of the Reagan-era action movies, and particularly the more jingoistic examples where it just becomes text don’t sit well with me, but then I live in England; we’re villains (if we’re lucky).
    However, I have to say I think Arnie actually got off pretty light (he played a Communist, what more do you want?!), especially given that he made his name in a John Milius movie. Bruce too; in fact Stallone was really the poster boy for the whole scene, which I find kinda sad because of the big three he’s probably my favourite actor but Rambo 2 and 3 are, ah, a little awkward.

  29. Jacks Lack of Motivation

    August 22nd, 2009 at 7:03 am

    Oh, also I recall some ladder action in Executive Decision and I’m sure there were cage-like structures in the cargo hold in Snakes on a Plane… Now I don’t know the design of AF1 particularly, but I choose to believe that President Flair could totally stage a full ladder and cage match at the drop of a hat if terrorists got on his plane.

  30. Jack – I believe your cage match scenario would elevate Air Force Flair to the stratosphere. And yes, a terrorist would have to pull President Flair’s pants halfway down, causing him to moon the entire audience, since that happened in EVERY FLAIR CAGE MATCH EVER.

    But on a more serious note – I think people here are forgetting that Wolfgang Peterson/Roland Emmerich do have two movies very critical of America (made during the post-9/11 Bush years, of course) – Day After Tomorrow is basically a dumbed-down version of An Inconvenient Truth for the masses; it obviously has a green/environmentalist slant, squarely puts the blame on big business/pollution, and even has a Cheney Doppleganger in the heartless beaurocrat role. And Peterson’s Troy is a great metaphor for the Iraq war which I think most people somehow missed. Lazy, cowardly leader (Agamemnon/Bush) comes up with a lie (kidnapping of Helen/WMD’s) to start a war between blond hair/blue-eyed people (Greeks/US) and a dark hair/skinned exotic culture(Trojans/Iraq). The real goal is of course shipping routes/oil. There’s even a line about “war is always about young men dying while old men are talking” or something like that. So yeah, I’d say Peterson and Emmerich might have all the pro-US rah rah out of their system. (maybe)

  31. President Flair would have been pretty funny, but President Jesse Ventura would have brought this onto a whole new level. Now if they could have roped in Paul Verhoeven to direct it…

  32. President Warrior?

    Garrrrry Old-Man! I was sent in a capsule from a place far from here, and I came here for one reason! To attack and keep comin’. Not to ask, but just to give. Not to want, but just to send. Send the power of the Warrior down everybody’s throat in the Air Force One (snort), until they become sick of it. Well you’re gonna get sick of it, because this freak of nature right here is just beginning to swell. And when I get big enough, brother, there ain’t gonna be room for anybody else but me and all the Warriors floatin’ through the veins and the power of the Warrioooooorrrrrrr!!!”(snort) Look above to the Gods, and when you fall below the skeletons of the Warriors past , the power of the Warriors will become the eighth wonder of the World! Nowwww Garrrryyyy Old-Man: GET OFF WARRIORS PLANE!!!

  33. If I want Die Hard on a plane, I’ll go for Passenger 51. It’s no “Blade” but it’s still better than a lot of what Wesley Snipes has come out with. I don’t know how Americans view this rubbish nowadays but I (British guy) spent most of the movie cringing rather than cheering. If it were tongue-in-cheek then it would have been soooo much better than it was.

  34. Thank you vern. Your review of this film won me $5. A friend and coworker told me yesterday that steven seagal is in air force one and dies ten-fifteen minutes into the movie. I cried bullshit, because I figured you probably would’ve mentioned that important piece of info in your review. He insisted though, and now he owes me five dollars. I guess he can’t tell the difference between kurt russell and harrison ford.

  35. Now that Paul mentioned Passenger 57, it did make me think that maybe Air Force One does deserve some props for actually keeping all the action on the plane. Passenger 57 and Con Air (both of which I did ENJOY more than AF1) took the easy way out by having a huge chunk of the story take place on the ground, which is kind of a cheat. Especially in the case of Passenger 57 – c’mon, a Die Hard clone on a plane should NOT contain a shootout on a merry-go-round and people falling off of Ferris Wheels.

  36. I dont think the DIE HARD plot can work on an airplane. The craft just aren’t big enough to make believe that whole sneaking around terrorists plot. AFO didn’t work, EXECUTIVE DECISION didn’t work, and PASSENGER 57 didn’t work either.

    Though P57 did at least try to be a somewhat blaxploitation flavor of DIE HARD.

    always bet on black!

  37. In spite of all this talk of Snipes, Stallone and Willis, I will nominate Harrison Ford as one of cinema’s best film fighters. He sweats, he heaves, he stumbles. Sure, that’s sorta Willis’s shtick, too, but Ford really looks to exert himself in a battle, but gets bloodied and winded afterward. Rutger VS Ford in Blade Runner: broken fingers, clumsy attacks thrown, etc. The dude takes some serious damage before barely winning. AF1 is mostly filled with bludgeoning, haymakers and H&K spraydowns; a sloppy victory.

  38. A very astute true point, Andrew.

    Han shot first!

  39. Jacks Lack of Motivation

    August 24th, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I agree, although on Blade Runner I don’t know if Deckard even barely wins, Batty just gives him a thorough shoeing until he has an epiphany and realises that life’s too precious to spend the rest of it kicking the shit out of Harrison Ford.

    I think one of the great charms of Ford’s characters is the way they can take a beating. Indy in particular; he has so many iconic moments but I think he’s at his best when he’s getting pummelled by Pat The Bomber Roach and keeps on fighting.

  40. I don’t think that anybody here was really wondering what Wolfgang Petersen is doing right now, but here is the trailer for his first movie since POSEIDON, which is also his first German one since DAS BOOT and as far as I know, also his first comedy. https://youtu.be/n-nHmYQf4Ek

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