John J. Puccio was a little more enthusiastic about this film than I am, but we're in agreement about a number of things: 1) you have to completely suspend your belief to enjoy "Air Force One," 2) Harrison Ford makes a good action-hero President of the United States, and 3) this is one "slam-bang" movie. In fact, it reminds me of the old star-driven matinee films that had so many cliffs for the stars to hang on that it was like swinging from rung to rung on playground monkey bars. Though the pace isn't quite as non-stop frenetic as "Raiders of the Lost Arc," once things get set in motion there are plenty of whiz-bang moments.
As John notes, the plot is pretty derivative, though, evoking such films as "ID4," "Diehard," "Alien," and "Under Siege," and the implausibility meter rises to dangerous levels throughout. Though that's not enough to keep him from awarding it an 8 out of 10, I'd have to say that there are too many people spouting strident clichés and some performances that verge upon caricature for it to merit more than a 7. But I'd certainly give it that, despite some scenes that seem like exercises in imagination-stretching.
In this film, the President hangs by his fingers at the end of a plane while seasoned Secret Service men are sucked out of the fuselage. In this film, the First Lady (Wendy Crewson, "The Santa Clause") is the one to speak boldly and confront terrorists who hijack the plane, though the cabin is full of top-level cabinet members and military strategists. In this film, security is so lax that a whole group of terrorists can pose as journalists to board Air Force One, despite looking like terrorists. And in this film, the President is so beloved that his Russian counterpart is ready to release the terrorist leader of an insurgency (Jürgen Prochnow as Gen. Ivan Radek) at the Presiden't request. Even Barrack Obama couldn't pull that one off.
Then there's the sneering, Cold War performance of Gary Oldman as nut-job terrorist Ivan Korshunov, which comes so close to caricature that you can't help but smile--especially when this villain starts "monologuing" and has an exceedingly long conversation with the President's daughter. Meanwhile, back on the ground, behind-the-scenes bickering over the chain of command isn't helped one bit by Vice President Kathyrn Bennett (Glenn Close), who seems to walk a fine line between cluelessness and resolve.
Still, there's something likable about this film--a number of things, really. Whether he's playing the President or an archaeologist, Ford has an Everyman's face and manner, so when the terrorists take over and his main concern is his wife and daughter (Liesel Matthews as Alice), there isn't a husband or dad around who can't identify with what his character is going through. And as hokey and improbable as the actions scenes may be, they're still fun to watch. The bad guys are the original snakes on a plane, and they don't care who they bite.
It all starts when a team of Special Forces executes a daring (and, I might add, violent) raid and captures Radek. Then the President goes off-script at a conference abroad and in announcing the capture he adds that America will never negotiate with terrorists. This is news to his cabinet and, of course, sets up a situation which requires him to be President Diehard. In short order, suspicious-looking "journalists" who were flying on Air Force One take out two Secret Service men and head straight for the locked cabinet with enough firepower and grenades to start a war. Quickly, they kill and take hostages, including the First Family. But the President is ushered to his "Star Wars"-style escape pod, and ordered to escape the ship. Naturally, being a family guy, he's not ready to do that. And he launches a one-man covert operation to retake the plane. Apparently, being a veteran is supposed to make us believe he's Rambo without the muscles, and the tension mounts as the terrorists threaten to execute a hostage every 15 minutes until Radek is released, and we truly don't know who's going to be shot next . . . or if President Ford (I mean, President MARSHALL) can stop them in time.
There's a nice progression of action and complications that hold our interest, and while Oldman goes a little overboard with his James Bond villain interpretation of the main terrorist and the bit players don't deliver the most convincing performances--I mean, I for one didn't believe that any of these folks were Cabinet-level intellects-Ford and his movie family are believable enough and the threat of violence is palpable enough that we willingly hop onboard . . . and enjoy the ride. And partial credit for that has to be given to the man who's operating this attraction, director Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot," "The Perfect Storm," "Troy"). He seems to embrace the matinee cliffhanger format and has fun with it, and as a result, so do we.
Despite a slight graininess throughout--texture on the master that's actually accentuated by a very good AVC/MPET-4 transfer--the movie has a nice amount of detail and depth, and it's never looked better. "Air Force One" is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and skin tones are natural. Though the color palette has a metallic or industrial look to it, the deep primary colors (like the reds, or the blues in the ubiquitous Presidential seal) jump out at you. Black levels are strong enough to pull detail out of the shadows, and if it weren't for that slight graininess this catalog title would look like a brand-new release.
The soundtrack is dynamic, with rumbling bass that makes the whole viewing area feel like the business end of a jet plane, and a nice wide spread across the front speakers. The rear speakers also get plenty of involvement on the featured English or French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, with bullets ricocheting, jet engines roaring, and music in nice balance against the dialogue and effects. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, and French.
The only bonus feature, in addition to BD-Live capability, is a decent director's commentary which finds Peterson getting a little help from Michael Coleman. It's not a new one, having first appeared on the original DVD, but it covers a lot of ground and is especially interesting when the subject of the Boeing 747-200 comes up-the aircraft that the filmmakers rented and actually flew for some sequences. And, of course, anything relating to Ford's performance is always fun, because he always throws himself into every film.
Think star-driven movie matinees or a Jerry Bruckheimer film and you've got a pretty good idea of what "Air Force One" is all about. It's a thrill ride that bears only the slightest resemblance to reality. But boy, is it fun.