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"Air Force One": First Class Fare
By R. Morris Barrett/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (July 31) -- To know James Marshall is to know at least one thing: he's no Bill Clinton.
For starters, Marshall, a U.S. president played by box-office king Harrison Ford in this summer's "Air Force One," is a highly decorated Vietnam pilot. No pointy-head draft dodging here. And soon we discover Marshall has no time for polls or focus groups. When he makes a decision, it's from "the heart."
Like when he commits the Western alliance to be the world's policeman, as he does at the film's outset, without alerting his national security advisor beforehand. Bill Clinton would never do that (for which we can all be thankful).
In fact, the last time a top U.S. leader did something quite so rash may have been when George Bush selected Dan Quayle as his running mate.
"Air Force One," of course, is just a movie and a darned good one at that, the riveting if unlikely story of six Russian terrorists who sneak aboard the president's plane posing as journalists. Led by militant nationalist Korshunov (played by the excellent and eerie Gary Oldman), they threaten to execute one passenger every half hour until their hero, imprisoned General Alexander Radek, is released.
Radek, who we learn has already wreaked havoc on Russia, will unleash a new round of slaughter and misery if freed, and Marshall, having just announced to the world that he will never bargain with terrorists, must weigh that cherished ideal against the lives of his own wife and child, also on board the hijacked aircraft.
The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Wolfgang Peterson ("In The Line Of Fire," "Outbreak"), who helmed the unforgettable 1980s, German submarine thriller "Das Boot." As in that tour de force, Peterson has demonstrated his mastery of suspense and filmmaking in a confined space.
"Air Force One," however, is no "Das Boot," a deeply human and artistic portrayal of men at war. By contrast, Peterson's latest is a classic Hollywood action adventure, circa 1997.
Like Indiana Jones, President Marshall can find or fight his way out of any jam, equally comfortable addressing the nuances of international relations and the controls of the world's most sophisticated jumbo jet.
Just as resilient, seemingly, is Marshall's 12-year-old daughter (Liesel Matthews). After surviving a brutal shootout at 30,000 feet, she faces down Korshunov, coolly informing the crazed terrorist he'll never compare in character to the First Dad.
Is our perfect president a Democrat or a Republican? That, unsurprisingly, is never divulged but the film is nevertheless achingly politically correct.
Enter Vice President Bennett, a tough but sensitive woman who must orchestrate the White House response to the hijacking of Air Force One. Glenn Close plays Bennett, a role that's no match for the actor's soaring talent. Bennett must endure an Al Haig-ish defense secretary (who assures her he's "in control here") among other caricaturish male colleagues.
Hollywood cliches aside, "Air Force One" is a great watch, destined to race past $100 million blockbuster status. Few movies are more suspenseful or fun, and it just might make you proud to be an American.
Send Harrison his $20,000,000. He's earned it.
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