Air Force One

on July 25, 1997 by Wade Major
Yet another tired "Die Hard" rehash wrapped around a ridiculous premise, "Air Force One" nevertheless stays aloft for the better part of its two-hour running time thanks to the diversionary skills of director Wolfgang Petersen ("In the Line of Fire") and some superb acting from Harrison Ford. In the end, however, as is increasingly the case with Hollywood action pictures, credibility is stretched too thin for even the best of talents to salvage.
After helping Russian President Petrov (Alan Woolf) capture renegade secessionist General Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), U.S. President James Marshall (Ford) delivers an off-the-cuff, anti- terrorism speech to a surprised and delighted Moscow audience. No sooner is Marshall back aboard Air Force One with his wife and daughter ("To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday's" Wendy Crewson and "A Little Princess'" Liesel Matthews) than the plane is seized by a pack of Radek's ultra-nationalist cronies masquerading as Russian telejournalists. Led by the suitably psychotic Ivan Korshunov ("The Fifth Element's" Gary Oldman), the hijackers' aim to capture the president and arrange the release of Radek is short-circuited when Secret Service agents eject an escape pod, presumably carrying the chief executive. But Marshall, determined to not abandon his family, is still on the plane, tucked away in a secret compartment until the time is right to play havoc with Korshunov and his men.
Although the interior of Air Force One might not exactly compare to his World War II "Das Boot" U-boat, Petersen does manage to sustain the film's suspense and intensity well beyond what its premise merits. Ford, likewise, appears so believably presidential that even fistfuls of action-film cliches start to seem fresh. Oldman, on the other hand, adds yet another over-acted villain to his embarrassing repertoire with temperamental explosions of "SHAAHT AAHP!" and repeated lectures on the lost glory of "Maaahther Raaahsia" verging on unintentional comedy.
Unfortunately, as the film winds to a close, claustrophobic tension once again gives way to overblown digital effects and set pieces involving a series of mid-air battles and maneuvers outlandish enough to make Ford yearn for the calmer days of the Millennium Falcon. "Air Force One" fares somewhat better as a presidential thriller than an action film, inheriting the fruits of Petersen's experience while making "In the Line of Fire." But even here the film ultimately falls short, failing to make the most of an impending Constitutional crisis involving the vice president (Glenn Close) and secretary of defense (Dean Stockwell). Whether or not Ford's star power will be enough to prop up this Beacon production in a summer already flush with high-octane action fare, of course, remains the biggest question of all. Odds are that it's too little, too late. Starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Wendy Crewson, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell and Glenn Close. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Written by Andrew W. Marlowe. Produced by Wolfgang Petersen, Gail Katz, Armyan Bernstein and Jon Shestack. A Columbia release. Action. Rated R for violence. Running time: 120 min
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