Air Force One probably would have seemed like a retread even if it hadn’t followed Executive Decision by a year, but the existence of other film sure doesn’t help.
The plot deals with the hijacking of the eponymous aircraft by a band of Russian “ultra-nationalists” led by Gary Oldman, who want to free their leader, General Radek (Das Boot’s Jürgen Prochnow). The terrorists think that the president (Harrison Ford) has escaped, but he’s really hiding in the bowels of the plane, getting ready to start kicking some Ruskie butt.
That this story has plot holes big enough to fly a 747 through them is probably not a surprise to people familiar with this sort of “Die Hard on a ____________” movie. Unfortunately, this film falls down exactly where more successful movies of this sort shine, with clearly understood motivations for the bad guys. Gary Oldman’s character is easy enough to relate to, but the film’s writers clearly have no clue when it comes to post-Soviet Russian politics. For an “ultra-nationalist”, he sure rants and raves like a dedicated communist. Anyone who knows anything about Russia today knows that ultra-nationalists are anything but communists.
The key motivation for making this story believable, that of the traitorous Secret Service agent (Xander Berkley), is never explained. What would make this man betray the president he swore to protect with his life? Money? Is he a closet commie? Why?
Another gaping whole is the story comes when Ford orders one of the fighters trailing the plane to fires missile to set off Air Force One’s defenses, thus helping Ford to overpower one of the terrorists. I don’t know, but if I had hi-jacked a plane and then someone fired a missile at it, I’d be kind of pissed, but Gary Oldman never even mentions it to the vice-president (Glenn Close).
The ending of film, featuring a mid-air transfer from a crippled Air Force One to another plane, is exciting but inadequately justified. Hey, they are flying over water! Even if the plane is supposed “unlandable,” surely it must be safer to ditch at sea then do a trapeze act at 10,000 feet. I mean, Air Force One does have floatation devices. Doesn’t it?
Glenn Close is first-rate as the vice-president, but otherwise the performances are professional but unspectacular. Ford plays his stock “Vulnerable Everyman” character. Even though this is not a Tom Clancy film, one can’t help but notice the similarities between the President in this film and Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Some other top-flight actors (Dean Stockwell and William H. Macy) are sadly underutilized.
All in all, Air Force One is a competently-made big-budget actioner, but the script could have done with a few extra trips through typewriter.