From the Unpublished Archives of Red Mike
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Let us talk, dearly beloved, about Air Force One (1997). Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman.
I bring this up because it shows what the popular culture take was, ten years ago, on:
a) The President
b) The Russians
d) What to do, as a passenger, in the event of an airplane hijacking
We start off with a special op being carried out by night. A group of troopers on air-ram parachutes are assaulting a building! They’re using laser sights with those lovely glowing red spots to target the guards. And no one I used to hang with ever did that. What’s the point of telling everyone in the world that you’re sighting in, and the approximate direction you’re coming from? Ten years ago we were using carbon-dioxide lasers, which are invisible to the naked eye. (You need special goggles to see ‘em.)
Well, once we’re on the roof, the troops set up a bunch of demolition charges. Some Hollywood demo charges blink red lights. Some of them beep. These did both. Not to worry, no one on the opposing team will notice.
The troops kidnap a gent out of bed, then leap into a waiting helicopter and whisk him into the night.
We cut to a few weeks later, to a state dinner in Russia. The Prez is there with his family, and he’s being congratulated for the joint US/Russian op that we just saw, that captured some international war-criminal guy who had been leading a break-away formerly Soviet republic.
Harrison makes a speech about how from now on US policy would be to intervene wherever there is a wrong to be righted at the earliest possible moment — and I said Yeah. And how are you going to tell which side, if either, is right? And who in Lower Slobovia voted to make you their big brother, anyway? We never think about that for the rest of the movie.
The Prez also makes it official US policy to never bargain with terrorists. Not that this is a new concept, or anything, although all his advisers go nuts about him coming up with new policy off the cuff like that.
Well, we go on to Air Force One for the trip back. And we have, as a special treat, a six-man Russian news team doing a story on the US Prez. They’re promised an interview with him.
Well, the plane gets into the air, and the plot starts getting thick.
There’s this Secret Service guy, see, and he shoots his buddies and opens the small arms locker. The “news team” turns out to be terrorists! They go to the small arms locker, pick up M-16s, bullet-resistant vests, then begin running around the aircraft whooping and yodeling and shooting up everything in sight.
Now all anyone who was trying to defend the aircraft (and there were several, with handguns) needed to do was wait in a thwart-ships passageway, maintain location until a bad-guy walked by, and nail him with a head shot before he could bring his weapon to bear. In regular security alerts in other craft that I’m aware of, the security alert teams do just that—go to good defensible, commanding positions and stay there, while a roving patrol sweeps the ship. Anyone who isn’t the roving patrol gets shot on sight by the stationary people.
This doesn’t happen here. Here, the defenders keep popping into view like targets at a carnival shooting range, and keep getting nailed.
But not to worry! The Prez is hustled off to the Escape Pod (a standard piece of Air Force One gear ever since Escape From New York). Somehow these guys never figure out that taking the First Lady and First Kid to the escape pod as well might be a clever plan.
The pod’s away! The plane heads for an Air Force base in Germany. They land there, but the evil terrorists shoot the pilots and, in a death-defying series of maneuvers, take off again. And this was another Yeah, Right, kind of scene. An aircraft as heavy as a 747, rolling across grass, will sink to the tops of its wheels in the ground. Then the landing gear will snap off. After that, things get nasty.
But we get back into the air.
Meanwhile, rescuers have reached the escape pod. But wait! What’s this! The escape pod is empty! The Prez, sly rascal, stayed aboard to Defend His Wife and Kid!
And that he does, with good old American fisticuffs. He’s facing a group of armed, trained, mentally prepared young men, so naturally some sixty-year-old guy with a desk job can beat them into submission.
Now this is where it really falls apart. Whatever else the President of the US may or may not be, almost by definition he’s one of the best politicians in the world. His talents aren’t in punching people out—they’re in talking people into donating their pants to him. He should, just by talking and turning on his charisma, get the terrorists to offer him a date with their sister. That would have been a better movie, IMHO, but we didn’t go that way.
Meanwhile, the evil terrorists have herded everyone else on the plane into one large room. Where they are left unbound, unblindfolded, and unguarded. These are high-ranking military men and presidential advisers. Based on only limited experience with the breed, if asked to describe a typical presidential adviser in one word, I’d say “ruthless.” Naturally, they don’t come up with any kind of plan.
Two of the evil terrorists come into the room. They allow people to stand behind them. They’re within arm’s reach of a whole bunch of people. This is one third of the terrorists’ force, including their mission commander. No one thinks, while standing behind these guys, to rabbit punch them then do a dog-pile.
Meanwhile, the Prez is busily dumping fuel, and all kinds of neat action-adventure movie things. I skip over most of this.
I’m also going to skip the Constitutional Crisis subplot, being hatched back in Washington. Ya see, no one can figure out if the Vice President should take over while the Prez is out of communication, possibly captured by hostile forces, or under duress. Now it would take you or me about one minute to figure out that the answer is Yes, but these guys can’t get to that point.
Okay, the Prez has finally been captured by the bad guys (and they’re down to three or four people by now). And with a gun to his head he’s forced to call the Russian President to tell him to release that evil guy who was captured back in the first reel. And now we see that the Prez doesn’t really have any strong ideals—he makes the call.
But this could have been fixed with two lines of dialog. Back during the State Dinner in scene two, he could have leaned over to the Russian Prez and say to him (it’s planted that our boy Harrison speaks Russian), “The only way I want to see General So-and-so released is feet first in a box.”
Now when he’s making the call, he can say, “Remember how I talked this afternoon about releasing General So-and-so? It’s time to release him now.”
That’s kind of what happens to the General anyway, in a more confusing, random way.
Anyway, there’s a lot more action-adventure and fisticuffs. The Prez and his family are rescued by heroic Air Force personnel.
There’s a really good special effects plane crash. And that’s the end of the movie.
You were wondering about the Secret Service guy who gave the evil terrorists the guns and such, weren’t you? You were wondering about his motivation, weren’t you? I know I was.
Was it money? Was it ideology? Was his mom General So-and-so’s kid sister? Who knows? We’re never told. There isn’t a hint. The only motivation seems to have been, “If I don’t betray my buddies and my country, then this will be a fifteen-minute movie.” This is what you might call a flaw in the plotting.
No one seems to have heard of the Buddy System. The terrorists are in the usual Haunted House scenario. “Something we can’t see is hunting us down and killing us one by one! I know: let’s split up!”
To balance that, the good guys hadn’t figured out the buddy system either.
Anyway, it was a fun machine-guns-and-exploding-planes movie. If you’re big on watching Harrison Ford get beaten up and suffering, this is the movie for you.